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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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Have you caught your breath yet? The Scandal season finale was one crazy ride, with so many twists and turns packed into one hour-long episode that even the stars were left shocked when they first learned what was going down. "By the end of the table read, we were all shaking and breathless. I was shaken up by that experience," Tony Goldwyn, who plays President Fitzgerald Grant, tells Hollywood.com. "The biggest surprise to me was the ending."
That shocking moment Goldwyn is referring to is the big reveal that Rowan (Joe Morton), the head of B6-13, is actually Olivia Pope’s (Kerry Washington) father! "I think you’ll need these two months hiatus to catch your breath and recover from that reveal," Goldwyn says. Yeah, we couldn’t agree more!
But was the reveal too out of the blue? Washington doesn't think so. "I really trust these writers. Every time I have an idea, they come up with something so much better," Washington says.
The big reveal occurred after Olivia was ambushed by the press, since it looks like her name was leaked as being the mysterious mistress of President Grant (but leaked by whom?). Olivia was pulled into a limo with Rowan, and upon seeing his face, merely called out, "Dad?" Now that raises so many more questions about why Rowan wanted Jake (Scott Foley) to kill Olivia. "Hold on to your seats," Morton says. "It’s nice being the guy in the shadow for once. I knew who he was going into the role. That’s the fun part, knowing where you’re going but you can’t play it."
While we’ll have to wait all summer before Scandal returns to find out more about Olivia’s dad, Morton did shed some light on his character. "He’s more or less a bad character," Morton says. "I haven’t had the opportunity to play many villains so this is the closest I’ve gotten to it so far."
Speaking of the return of Scandal, thank the white hats there is a Season 3 or else that cliffhanger would be one difficult pill to swallow. "It’s wonderful that we have another season," Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes says. "I’ve actually known for a while, but to have it official was so exciting." Her advice for waiting out the summer? "Hug a friend," Rhimes says. "I think that people will enjoy it. I hope that they enjoy it!"
Something the fans won’t enjoy? The unknown fate of B6-13 assassin Jake. After saving Olivia’s life – again – Rowan threw him in the hole for disobeying orders to kill her. Is Rowan trying to make Jake forget Olivia like Huck forgot his wife and child? "If I could tell you, I would. If I knew, I would," Foley tells Hollywood.com. "His feelings for Olivia, whether or not they continue past this episode is something I can’t tell you."
While Foley couldn’t dish on how the hole will affect Jake, he did have a lot to say about the shocking return of Billy Chambers (Matt Letscher). "No one saw that coming. Billy Chambers was supposed to have been killed in the last episode of the first season," Foley says. But as we found out in the finale, Billy talked his way out of his assassination only to come back with a vengeance: to take down the President. "When Matt walked into the room at that table read, everyone went, ‘Oh my god!’ We were all just blown away."
Letscher was also shocked that his character was returning… since he also thought he was dead! "Knowing Shonda and how she works, I kept thinking that he could be brought back because we never saw him die. You see everybody else die but not him. And lo and behold, it ended up being the truth,"Letscher says.
The return of Billy Chambers, while shocking, also caused some issues for the Gladiators as he was trying to use the Defiance secret to bring down the President. But he was foiled by David Rosen (Joshua Malina), and the truth came out that Billy was the mole, and responsible for many unsolved murders. "To play a prominent role in the way that things unfolded in the finale, it was really fun," Letscher says.
After last week’s reveal that David Rosen was the one working with Billy, many fans thought David was betraying the Gladiators. It turns out, he was actually manipulating Billy into confessing all his crimes while David wore a wire. He exposed Billy as the mole and earned himself a new job: the US Attorney for DC. "I was so delighted. I found out a day before we started shooting it," Malina tells Hollywood.com. "I had a feeling for a long time, but as much as it looked like he was going one way, Shonda likes to get you off balance. So it felt like something was coming but I could never get ahead of her and guess what it was."
David had been planning his move for a long time, ever since he started sleeping on the couch at Olivia Pope and Associates. Every night, he would try hundreds and hundreds of combinations on Olivia’s safe to try and get the Cytron card to fake out Billy. Now that’s some serious dedication! "You were questioning his motivation for a while, like, ‘What a loser.’ He’s literally hanging out on the couch and eating the cereal of the people who have ruined him," Malina says. "I like that he’s got a little more fire to him than people were giving him credit for."
So what does this mean for David and Abby (Darby Stanchfield), if David didn’t actually betray the Gladiators? "I love this relationship that Shonda has created. It continues to be unpredictable, it’s not really conventional, and it’s a little strange in how they connect," Stanchfield tells Hollywood.com. "Abby hasn’t really known a good guy in her life so maybe doesn’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, so when she tries to sort it out she slaps him in the face, sticks her fingers in his mouth and calls that love."
We don’t have just Abby and David questions. We also have Olivia and Rowan questions, Olivia and Jake questions, Olivia and Fitz questions, Fitz and Mellie questions, Huck and Quinn questions, Cyrus and James questions, Rowan and Jake questions, Fitz and Jake questions: questions, questions everywhere and not a Scandal to drink. At least not until Season 3!
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.