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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Jazz star Gloria Lynne has passed away just weeks before her 82nd birthday. The singer died after suffering a heart attack at Columbus Rehabilitation Center in Newark, New Jersey on Tuesday (15Oct13). She was set to celebrate her birthday on 23 November (13).
Born in Harlem, New York to a gospel singing mother, Lynne won the Apollo Theater's amateur concert aged 15, before finding national fame in the U.S. by appearing on Harry Belafonte's Strolling '20s TV special in the 1960s.
She joined her peers Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis on the country's jazz club scene and secured hits with ballads including I Wish You Love and I'm Glad There Is You.
Lynne continued performing throughout her life, giving her last show in August (13) at New York's 54 Below venue.
Fela!, about the life of revered African world music star Fela Kuti, will go up against Green Day's American Idiot, Memphis, and Million Dollar Quartet in the coveted Best Musical category at the 64th annual prizegiving, which honours the best on Broadway.
Meanwhile, Grammer and Hodge, who star as a camp gay couple in La Cage, will compete against Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises), Chad Kimball (Memphis) and Sahr Ngaujah (Fela!) for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
The evening is sure to be a star-studded event, with Hollywood actors Jude Law (Hamlet), Alfred Molina (Red), Liev Schreiber (A View from the Bridge), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane) and Denzel Washington (Fences) pitted against each other for the Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play award.
Washington's co-star Viola Davis will battle it out in the category for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, against Valerie Harper (Looped), Linda Lavin (Collected Stories), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still) and Jan Maxwell (The Royal Family).
Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music), Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture), Montego Glover (Memphis) and Christiane Noll (Ragtime) received nods for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and Scarlett Johansson's Broadway debut in A View from the Bridge has earned her a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.
Nominations for Best Play include In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), Next Fall, Red and Time Stands Still.
The winners will be announced on 13 June (10) at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The main list of nominees is as follows:
In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Time Stands Still
Million Dollar Quartet
Best Book of a Musical:
Everyday Rapture - Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Fela! - Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones
Memphis - Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet - Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre:
The Addams Family - Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Enron - Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Fences - Music: Branford Marsalis
Memphis - Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan
Best Revival of a Play:
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View from the Bridge
Best Revival of a Musical:
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:
Jude Law - Hamlet
Alfred Molina - Red
Liev Schreiber - A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken - A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington - Fences
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Viola Davis - Fences
Valerie Harper - Looped
Linda Lavin - Collected Stories
Laura Linney - Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell - The Royal Family
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical:
Kelsey Grammer - La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes - Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge - La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball - Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah - Fela!
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:
Kate Baldwin - Finian's Rainbow
Sherie Rene Scott - Everyday Rapture
Montego Glover - Memphis
Christiane Noll - Ragtime
Catherine Zeta-Jones - A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play:
David Alan Grier - Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson - Fences
Jon Michael Hill - Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken - Enron
Eddie Redmayne - Red
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play:
Maria Dizzia - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Rosemary Harris - The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht - A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson - A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell - Lend Me a Tenor
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical:
Kevin Chamberlin - The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus - La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald - Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis - Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert - Ragtime
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:
Barbara Cook - Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran - Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury - A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit - Come Fly Away
Lillias White - Fela!
Best Direction of a Play:
Michael Grandage - Red
Sheryl Kaller - Next Fall
Kenny Leon - Fences
Gregory Mosher - A View from the Bridge
Best Direction of a Musical:
Christopher Ashley - Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge - Ragtime
Terry Johnson - La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Rob Ashford - Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Lynne Page - La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp - Come Fly Away
Jason Carr - La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson - Fela!
Jonathan Tunick - Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan - Memphis
Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty - The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge - Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto - Fences
Christopher Oram - Red
Best Scenic Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Christine Jones - American Idiot
Derek McLane - Ragtime
Tim Shortall - La Cage aux Folles
Best Costume Design of a Play:
Martin Pakledinaz - Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero - Fences
David Zinn - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Catherine Zuber - The Royal Family
Best Costume Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Santo Loquasto - Ragtime
Paul Tazewell - Memphis
Matthew Wright - La Cage aux Folles
Best Lighting Design of a Play:
Neil Austin - Hamlet
Neil Austin - Red
Mark Henderson - Enron
Brian MacDevitt - Fences
Best Lighting Design of a Musical:
Kevin Adams - American Idiot
Donald Holder - Ragtime
Nick Richings - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel - Fela!
Best Sound Design of a Play:
Acme Sound Partners - Fences
Adam Cork - Enron
Adam Cork - Red
Scott Lehrer - A View from the Bridge
Best Sound Design of a Musical:
Jonathan Deans - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz - Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen - A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier - Sondheim on Sondheim
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:
Regional Theatre Tony Award:
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut
Isabelle Stevenson Award:
David Hyde Pierce
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre:
Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
When all-American girl Susan Murphy is inadvertently hit by a falling meteor on her wedding day she grows to be nearly 50 feet tall. The U.S. military gets wind of this renames her Ginormica and locks her away with a slacker group of other “monsters” in a top-secret compound. But when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins wreaking havoc these good-hearted but inept creatures are called into action by the President and must band together as a team to save the world from certain catastrophe.
WHO’S IN IT?
As usual Dreamworks has assembled a stellar A-list voice cast led by Reese Witherspoon as Susan/Ginormica. Playing one of the rare female animated heroes Witherspoon’s sweet/confused demeanor — in light of her highly unusual status as a fearsome freakazoid — hits just the right tone generously letting her zanier colleagues steal scenes from right under her (a long way down by the way). Chief among these are a not-so-bright gelatinous blue mass named B.O.B. hilariously voiced by Seth Rogen; the genius Dr. Cockroach Ph.D in the capable hands of House doc Hugh Laurie; and Will Arnett’s half-ape half-fish The Missing Link. In the human roles there’s Stephen Colbert as the idiotic U.S. President Kiefer Sutherland as the monster’s prison guardian Paul Rudd as the ego-driven weatherman fiancé of Susan; and a deliciously villainous Rainn Wilson as Galaxhar the alien determined to take over Earth.
Superb 3-D effects aren’t overdone and add immeasurably to the ginormous fun of the film but even seeing it in theaters that only show it in regular 2-D doesn’t spoil the pure joy of this cartoonish War of the Worlds. Throw in parodies of every cheap '50s sci-fi movie you can think of and you have the ingredients for a silly monster mash sure to appeal to just about anyone who wants to laugh. Despite the impressive production elements it’s the smart and clever script that really sets it apart from its competitors — and that even includes the similar Monsters Inc. from Pixar.
Like any kid-oriented comic ‘toon today the action can be a bit too frenetic and Monsters vs. Aliens piles a lot of it on in its trim 95 minutes. Still the lovable characters carry the day and somehow make it all palatable.
When Susan now Ginormica brings her new friends home to meet her parents chaos ensues and so do the laughs. Also impressive are the large action scenes that make fine use of CGI animation breakthroughs.
BEST SUPPORTING BLOB:
It's easily the one-eyed lame-brained blue lug of a people hugger named B.O.B. perfectly matched to the talents of Rogen. He rolls away with the movie and inevitably the merchandise tie-ins.
Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) doesn’t know how lucky she has it. She’s smart beautiful and married to Gerry (Gerald Butler) a passionate funny and impetuous Irishman who loves her with every breath in his body. But when that breath runs out--Gerry dies unexpectedly from an illness--Holly’s luck runs out. Barely coping her salvation arrives in the form of letters from Gerry that come to Holly in unexpected ways--letters he wrote to her before he died to help her get through the pain and move on with her life and letters that always end with “P.S. I Love You.” A saint huh? Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow) begin to worry Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past but in fact each letter pushes Holly on a journey of rediscovery and to show her how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into new beginning for life. Tissues please! Swank will be damned if she pigeonholes herself into always playing serious women who don’t wear makeup. P.S. I Love You is her stab at romantic dramedy and while the genre may not suit her best the Oscar-winning actress still has fun playing a spirited woman who wears designer clothes cute hats and gets to make out with a strapping Irish hunk. Actually Swank gets to bed TWO strapping Irish hunks in P.S. I Love You: The first is the yummy Butler of course and the other is Gerry’s old bandmate William played by American Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who’ll be seen in the upcoming romantic comedy The Accidental Husband with Uma Thurman). Lucky girl. Butler however is the one the ladies will sigh over the most. Having already given a powerhouse performance this year as the Spartan king in 300 the Scottish actor turns the tables to show his soft underbelly as the adorably romantic and fun-lovin’ Gerry. The abs still rock though. One can easily see why Holly is such a mess after he dies. Gershon and Kudrow add some genuineness as Holly’s friends (someone please find a Kudrow a TV show) as does Bates as Holly’s hardened mother. Harry Connick Jr. however seems out of place as Holly’s would-be suitor. She just needs to stick with the Irish guys. Hilary Swank teams up with her Freedom Writers director Richard LaGravenese once again for P.S. I Love You and it’s clear they have a symbiotic relationship. Swank probably likes the way LaGravenese accentuates her best features turning her into a glam leading lady while LaGravenese obviously enjoys gazing at her through his camera lens. Unfortunately the two really haven’t found the best material. Freedom Writers is the mother of all teacher-gets-students-motivated retreads while P.S. I Love You--based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern and adapted by LaGravenese and Steven Rogers--is just pure fluff with very little substance behind it. Not that the film won't inspire some romantic feelings or work up tears but its only real strengths are: 1) the players who somehow rise about the triteness of it all especially Butler and 2) the gorgeous landscapes of Ireland which should send any woman in her right mind straight to the Emerald Isles to find her perfect man. Seriously ladies book your trips NOW.
The story of the late great Johnny Cash depicted in Walk the Line is not quite all encompassing. The film dramatizes just one moment in Cash's life: his tumultuous 20s and rise to fame. The young Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) married and straight out of the army struggles with his music finally finding his patented blend of country blues and rock music. Haunted by a troubled childhood Cash sings songs about death love treachery and sin--and shoots straight to the top of the charts. On tour he also meets and falls for his future wife June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) whose refusal to meddle with a married man only further fuels the fire and contributes to his eventual drug addiction. Their cat-and-mouse love story provides the film’s core but unfortunately can’t quite overcome Walk the Line’s formulaic nature. Biopics are generally good to actors. Phoenix and Witherspoon could easily each walk away with Oscar statuettes for turning in two of the most jaw-dropping spellbinding performances since well Jamie Foxx in Ray. Neither actor had any musical background whatsoever but they both underwent painstaking transformations for the sake of authenticity doing all of their own singing as well as guitar-playing for Phoenix. The actor's performance is purely raw and visceral; his vulnerability is aptly palpable at first but then he becomes the Cash with the unflinching swagger. Witherspoon's Carter is Cash's temptress and she'll be yours too by movie's end. She eerily reincarnates Carter as if she was born to play the part. If Walk the Line is the ultimate actor's canvas then Phoenix and Witherspoon make priceless art-and music-together. While good for the actors biopics can prove to be difficult for the director. It’s hard to highlight a person’s life without it coming off like a TV movie of the week. Unfortunately director James Mangold (Copland) plays it safe with Walk the Line. The duets between Johnny and June on stage are about the only electrifying moments of the film. The rest is pretty stereotypical. And it isn’t because the film only focuses on certain years of Cash's life. It's simply not possible to fit a lifetime into the short duration of a film. The problem instead is that Mangold's presentation of Cash's life would lead one to believe that Cash actually exorcised his demons. But in reality his lifelong demons are what endeared him to the layperson. There was nothing cut and dry about the Cash story--and adding a little grit would have given Walk the Line the edge it needed.
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.