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 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 God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Actress Jane Greer, who co-starred with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas in 1947's classic Out of the Past, died Friday of complications from cancer, according to Associated Press reports. She was 76.
Greer, a native of Washington, D.C., was born Sept. 9, 1924 and grew up in Florida. She was a onetime beauty contestant who caught the eye of Hollywood after appearing in Life magazine.
"I always wanted to be an actress, and suddenly I knew that learning to control my facial muscles was one of the best assets I could have as a performer," Greer once said in an interview.
Greer is survived by her twin brother; sons Alex, Lawrence and Steve; and two grandchildren. Her common-law husband, acting coach Frank London, died in January.
A private memorial service will be help Sept. 9 on what would have been Greer's 77th birthday.
Contrary to U.S. media reports that Cuba may not allow some of its stars to travel to the 2nd Annual Latin Grammy Awards, the city of Havana said Friday that it would allow artists to travel to the ceremony taking place in Los Angeles on Sept. 11. Rebecca Viera, vice-president for the state-run Music Institute in Havana, told Reuters that "Cuba never put obstacles to stop nominated artists on the island from participating in the Latin Grammys." Cuban nominees include salsa star Isaac Delgado, jazz pianist Chucho Valdes and singers Omara Portuondo and Celina Gonzalez.
The Latin Recording Academy has announced the 17 honorees to inaugurate the newly launched Latin Grammy Hall of Fame. Among the recordings inducted are: Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Garota de Ipanema (The Girl From Ipanema)," Carlos Santana's 1970 remake of the Tito Puente classic "Oye Como Va," Don Azpiazu's version of "El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)," João Gilberto's album Chega da Saudade, Javier Solís' 1960 version of the classic love song, "Sabor a Mí," and the original 1948 version of Concierto de Aranjuez.
Baretta star Robert Blake put his 4,909-square-foot Los Angeles home on the market on Thursday for $1.09 million. The actor intends to move closer to his adult daughter in the San Fernando Valley, Blake's attorney, Harland Braun, told The L.A. Daily News.
Beatles fans will be able to stay at the Hard Day's Night Hotel after it opens in Liverpool, England, in 2003. Each of the hotel's 120 rooms will feature a mural based on a member, song, or place associated with the group. The hotel will occupy a restored downtown building near the site of the Cavern Club, where the Fab Four played some of their earliest shows.
Sony Pictures Entertainment has pulled an R-rated trailer for its upcoming comedy Not Another Teen Movie from the Sony.com Web site fearing underage kids could view it. The ad reportedly featured profanity and partial nudity, said Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Association of America. Sony officials plan to produce a sanitized version of the ad for the site. Not Another Teen Movie is scheduled for release in December.
Director Joe Camp wants to cast all 26 canine roles from an animal shelter for the newest Benji movie. "It's got to be a dog that's very confident in himself and works and wants to do this," he told the AP on Sunday. Camp's original Oscar-nominated Benji debuted in 1974 and earned $40 million in theaters. His latest, Benji Returns--The Promise of Christmas, is set for the 2002 holiday season.
Eon Productions denied that it has been looking for Pierce Brosnan's replacement for the role of James Bond in an upcoming movie, the AP reported Friday. A report in the British press said Scottish actor Gerard Butler had been promised the role whenever Brosnan gave it up. The title of the next film, due to start filming early next year, has not been announced.
Speaking of Bond, Famke Janssen, who got her big break in the 1995 Bond flick Golden Eye, will take the female lead in I Spy opposite Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, Reuters reported. Janssen can currently be seen in Jon Favreau's Made, and co-starred in last year's X-Men. I Spy begins shooting in mid-September in Budapest.
Karen Kramer, widow of director Stanley Kramer, is upset about the comparisons being made between Jerry Zucker's recent Rat Race and her late husband's 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World," People magazine reports. "The truth is that Mr. Zucker tried to build a better mousetrap and failed--exploiting a brilliant classic that was the daddy of its kind to create an inferior, unauthorized imitation," she told the Los Angeles Times last week.
Since the sequel to Matrix, Matrix Reloaded, won't be released until May 2003, Warner Bros. will introduce a 2½ hour documentary on the movie and its sequels this fall and also plans to produce anime episodes of the stories, Reuters reports. The Matrix Revisited will debut on DVD and VHS Nov. 20 and will include interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and sneak peaks at Reloaded and a third Matrix film now in pre-production.
The video game-based movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider will be released on video Nov. 13. The rental-priced VHS will include a 25-minute Digging into Tomb Raider bonus feature, Reuters reports. Other upcoming special edition DVD/ VHS releases include Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Oct. 23), featuring 90 minutes of extra material and audio commentaries by directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones; Warner Bros. five-film Dirty Harry collection and a three-film "Rat Pack" collection (Nov. 23).