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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Actress Angie Harmon is convinced a Baywatch revamp would be a ratings winner after witnessing the success of the new Dallas series.
The Law & Order star, who played detective Ryan McBride in the beach drama and its spin-off Baywatch Nights, has echoed her former co-star David Hasselhoff's call to launch an update of the show.
She tells the New York Daily News, "Look at Dallas now - with the whole younger generation it has worked. That would be genius, amazing... all these hot young people running around on the beach and saving lives.
"David was always in great shape. It is so funny, back then he had a huge trailer and all the weights, which were air-pressurised. He is so self-deprecating he would be hilarious. He totally should do it."
The Dallas revamp won over audiences in 2012 after relaunching with original favourites Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and the late Larry Hagman alongside younger stars including Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe.
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After being fabled in urban lore for years, the Season of the Showrunner Switcheroo has finally come to be. Ever since the network upfronts announced which series would be returning for the upcoming television season, the public has heard news of several shows dropping their existing showrunners and bringing in new ones. The latest in the trend is Last Man Standing, the Tim Allen sitcom that just concluded its first season on ABC. EW reports that original showrunner Kevin Abbott is leaving his post to take the lead on the new ABC program Malibu Country, starring Reba McEntire. Tim Doyle (who has served as EP on The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement) will be assuming control of Last Man Standing.
The news might have been more jarring if the world wasn't quickly becoming desensitized to the idea of showrunner swapping. Recently, the HBO hit True Blood (which aired its Season 5 premiere on Sunday) announced that creator and showrunner Alan Ball would be stepping down, and the series executive producer Mark Hudis would be taking charge for the developing sixth season. You can read more about this here.
The Showtime dramedy Nurse Jackie nabbed former Dexter writer/showrunner Clyde Phillips to lead. Former series heads Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem dropped out of production in light of Nurse Jackie's relocation to New York. You can read more about this here.
Prior to this, it was announced that Cougar Town, which is moving from ABC to TBS, would be giving creative control to Ric Swartzlander. Original showrunners/creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel will remain attached as executive producers — they and the cast have expressed a positive attitude about the change-up. You can read more about this here.
Back in March, Paul Lieberstein, The Office's showrunner and onscreen sad sack (better known as Toby Flenderson), announced that he would be giving up his top dog position in order to head The Office's developing Dwight Schrute-centric spinoff, The Farm. No word yet on who will take Lieberstein's spot as showrunner. You can read more about this here.
The freshman comedy Whitney didn't quite earn its keep during its first year on NBC, but the network is bent on finding the magic it believes to be inherent in its star's television presence. Whitney has hired Friends vet Wil Calhoun to take over; previous showrunner Betsy Thomas will remain EP status. You can read more about this here.
But the greatest deal of outrage has come in response to the replacement of Dan Harmon as showrunner on his cult phenomenon, NBC's Community. Harmon was removed by the network from his position and granted an executive producer credit; outside writers David Guarascio and Moses Port were brought on to head the series. You can read more about this here, but try not to get too depressed.
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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.
Yup, he's the dad. Mick Jagger Wrinkled Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, 56, today confirmed in sworn testimony that a baby boy born to Brazilian model Luciana Morad is indeed the result of his, er, handiwork.
Speaking to New York court officials via the telephone from London, the rocker said he had no problem being listed as the father on the birth certificate of Lucas Maurice Morad Jagger, born May 18. No word if he had a problem with the whole "Maurice" thing.
The out-of-wedlock birth -- he is no longer linked with Morad -- is proving costly to the mega-millionaire. First, it drove the final nail into his relationship with model/actress Jerry Hall. (The two formally split in July, annulling what most people thought was a nine-year marriage, but what they agreed was a nine-year nonlegal cohabitation. In any case, Hall walked away with a reported $15 mil.)
And now the Morad affair has landed Jagger (in spirit anyway) in the Big Apple's Manhattan Family Court, where the maternal unit is demanding $35,000 a month in support from the paternal unit. (Said paternal unit is currently forking over a mere $5,500 a month.)
For those keeping score at home, Jagger has now squired seven kids -- two by ex-wife Bianca Jagger, four by Hall, one by Morad.
Well, that he knows of anyway.
COUPLEDOM: What's it like to be an ex-Beatle? You have to issue a press statement when you go out on a date. Widowed Paul McCartney, 57, today confirmed to the British press that he's "an item" with a 32-year-old, one-legged activist. "She's a very impressive woman," McCartney said of Heather Mills. The erstwhile Mop Top lost wife Linda to breast cancer in 1998.
COUPLEDOM II: Actress Angie Harmon, 27, ("Law & Order") and football star Jason Sehorn, 28, (New York Giants) are engaged after the groom-to-be proposed to the bride-to-be on the Monday edition of "The Tonight Show." It was a really happy occasion, and Jay Leno didn't call anybody names, neither.
HOW TO GET A HEAD: Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" ran away with a field-best 11 nominations for the 26th Annual Saturn Awards, honoring TV and films of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror variety. Burton's Headless Horseman tale earned a nod for best horror flick as well as a best actor nomination for star Johnny Depp. Winners will be announced in June.
JURISPRUDENCE: In Los Angeles, a judge has dismissed a $150 million slander lawsuit brought against "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno. The complaint, filed by an auto designer, accused Leno of calling the man a "crook" and other not-so-nice things at a 1998 classic car show in L.A. The attorney for the auto designer vows the court battle is "far from over."
FABIO NEWS! Everyone's favorite artificial butter spokesman is 39 years young today. That's all.