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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Maybe we shouldn't be surprised if we don't see much of Jason Sudeikis around Saturday Night Live this weekend. No, the SNL star hasn't left the show for good — as he's alluded to/threatened time and time again — but because returning favorite host Justin Timberlake is back and, well, he and Sudeikis' fiancee Olivia Wilde have history.
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Then again, if J. Suds decides to sit this one out, it wouldn't look all that different from most episodes of SNL recently. The variety show's former heavy hitter has been all but reduced to a minor player, only occasionally popping up in the background of a sketch or to dust off his Wolf Blitzer or Billy Ray Cyrus imitation. (Even then, he's overshadowed by Vanessa Bayer's pretty cool take on Miley.) In February alone, Sudeikis only appeared in a handful of sketches — in none of which was he front and center.
So what is the fate of Sudeikis, who is currently in his 10th year at Studio 8H? Will the guy who seemed to have one foot out the door with Kristen Wiig — and who said in early 2012 that he'd "miss the people ... the process, the parties" — stick around for the duration of Season 38? Hollywood.com reached out to both NBC and the Sudeikis' rep, but did not get a comment regarding his current and future status on the long-running show.
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Look, it's not that we want Sudeikis out the door. Far from it. (I mean, what would be up with "What Up With That?" without his trademark dance moves?) But if this does turn out to be the final season for the actor/comedian, he's squandering his talents and would be leaving a lame duck. Maybe it's because Sudeikis didn't get the comeback he so richly deserved on 30 Rock (we had higher hopes for Floyd and Liz) or because he's doing Applebees commercials voiceovers, but we're really pulling for this talented performer to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.
After all, Sudeikis has done an awesome job playing the likes of Taylor Hicks and Vice President Joe Biden, Jon Bon Jovi, and one half of "Two A-holes." Please, J. Suds, you're too funny and started too promising to become the punchline of "that guy is still here?" jokes. Make the best of the rest of Season 38 and step up your game to play on the level of Bill Hader and Fred Armisen again. That is, if you do indeed choose to go. (Just as long as you don't make a Hall Pass sequel).
[Photo credit: NBC]
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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.
A bounty of buzz-heavy, star-studded new releases will kick off the countdown to Christmas this year, promising something different and special each day of the week.
The holiday movie bonanza commences Tuesday with the limited release of Sony's "Girl, Interrupted." Adapted from Susanna Kaysen's critically acclaimed memoir, the film stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as two iconoclastic young women confined to a mental institution.
Lifting the box office spirit Wednesday are three wildly anticipated films of different ilk. Taking care of the laugh department is director Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon," where funnyman Jim Carrey plays funnyman Andy Kaufman.
For those lamenting the absence of televised sports programming on Christmas, there's Oliver Stone's adrenaline-racing, testosterone-pumping "Any Given Sunday," a homage to the gritty underside of football starring Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid and Cameron Diaz.
And for the romantically inclined, check out "Snow Falling on Cedars," an entangled tale of past love and lingering emotion set in the Pacific Northwest starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine").
Christmas Day will see two new wide releases: DreamWorks' family friendly comedy "Galaxy Quest" with Tim Allen playing a passe TV actor enlisted to fight aliens in real life and Paramount's much-lauded "The Talented Mr. Ripley." In the Patricia Highsmith adaptation, Matt Damon plays a gay man hired to track down wayward playboy Jude Law in Italy and ends up assuming his life.
The big names don't stop there, though. Making their debut in limited engagements are three potential award winners and potential hits for the year 2000. They are Paramount's "Angela's Ashes," Buena Vista's buddy boxing flick "Play It to the Bone" with Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson and Fox Searhlight's ensemble drama "Titus" starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.
Here's a complete list of this week's releases.
Opening Tuesday, Dec. 21
"Girl, Interrupted" (Sony) -- "Copland" director James Mangold adapts Susanna Kaysen's best-selling autobiographical novel to the big screen. Based on the author's brief confinement to a psychiatric ward during her teens, the film follows the troubled detainee portrayed by Winona Ryder as the line between sanity and madness disintegrates. Angelina Jolie co-stars as a fellow patient.
Opening Wednesday, Dec. 22
"Any Given Sunday" (Warners) -- Al Pacino plays a head football coach facing the worst season of his career. With record losses and plunging attendance, his future with the Miami Sharks is further jeopardized by the injury of his aging star quarterback played by Dennis Quaid. Under pressure to win at any cost, the veteran struggles to maintain his integrity on and off the sidelines.
"Man on the Moon" -- (Universal) "The People vs. Larry Flynt" director Milos Forman returns with a biopic on late comedian Andy Kaufman, best known for his role in "Taxi." Jim Carrey stars as the versatile comedian as the film traces various stages in Kaufman's career. Danny DeVito co-stars as his longtime manager, and Courtney Love plays his girlfriend.
"Snow Falling on Cedars" (Universal) -- "Shine" director Scott Hicks returns with a tale of intrigue and love set in 1954 on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Ethan Hawke stars as a reporter assigned to cover the trial of a Japanese man accused of the murder of a local fisherman. Youki Kudoh co-stars as Hawke's childhood flame and the wife of the accused (Rick Yune). Based on the best seller by David Guterson.
"Onegin" (Samuel Goldwyn) -- Set in 1820s Russia, Ralph Fiennes stars as a dashing aristocrat who's brought to the countryside through his inheritance of a large estate. There, he acquaints a doting young woman (Liv Tyler) whose love he refuses. Six years later, the two meet again on vastly different terms -- he's fallen obsessively in love with Tyler while she's comfortably married to another man.
"42 Up" (First Run) -- In 1964, filmmaker Michael Apted began his marathon documentary series about the lives of a group of 7-year-olds in England, each from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds. Since then, the director has continued to chronicle the ups and downs of his subjects at 7-year intervals. The sixth installment is the latest update on these people at the crossroad of the big 42.
Opening Friday, Dec. 24
"Pink Narcissus" (Strand) -- First released in 1971, this erotic phantasmagoria returns to the screen with all its campy outrageousness intact. The cult classic follows a beautiful young man, played by Bobby Kendall, as he journeys through a series of sexual fantasies with total abandon. Throughout the experience, the youth is plagued by one great fear -- growing old and losing his looks.
Opening Saturday, Dec. 25
"Galaxy Quest" (DreamWorks) -- Tim Allen plays an over-the-hill television star in this spaced out comedy. He finds himself responsible for the fate of the planet when too-eager aliens mistake the erstwhile actor and his peers as the "Captain Peter Quincy Taggart" starship crew. Now the reluctant actors must go into space for an intergalactic showdown. Sigourney Weaver co-stars.
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" (Paramount) -- Based on the acclaimed novel by Patricia Highsmith, Matt Damon stars as the gay, chameleon-like Tom Ripley, who is commissioned to retrieve an errant playboy (Jude Law) from Italy. The simple errand turns deadly as Damon develops an unhealthy obsession with the expatriate and his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow)."The English Patient" director Anthony Minghella writes and directs.
"Angela's Ashes" (Paramount) -- Adapted from Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, this film is a heartwarming document of the author's childhood in Ireland during the 1930s and '40s. Emily Watson ("Hilary & Jackie") and Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") co-star as Frank's working class parents. Directed by Alan Parker.
"Play It to the Bone" (Buena Vista) -- Out-of-work boxing rivals and friends (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) get the chance of a lifetime to work together in Las Vegas. Strapped for time, they hit the road with their friend (Lolita Davidovich) at the wheel. A riotous road trip ensues as the boxers scramble to make it to their big showdown.
"Titus" (Fox Searchlight) -- In this epic tale of revenge, Anthony Hopkins stars as Titus Andonicus, the Roman general who sows the seeds of vengeance when he executes the son of the enemy queen, played by Jessica Lange. The repercussions of his action are revealed when the vindictive woman becomes the new wife of the Roman emperor. Alan Cumming co-stars.
"The Cider House Rules" (Miramax) -- Directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and adapted from John Irving's best-selling novel, this coming-of-age story casts Tobey Maguire as a young man who has spent his entire youth in an orphanage. Hungry for experience, he sets out to explore the world outside. Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd and Michael Caine co-star.
"Cradle Will Rock" (Buena Vista) -- Based on true events in the cultural and art scenes of 1930s New York City, this film follows various cultural workers -- including Mexican artist Diego Rivera, theater director Orson Welles and propagandist Margherita Sarfatti -- as they defend their artistic expressions in the face of political paranoia and government censorship. John Cusack, Bill Murray and Susan Sarandon co-star.
"Tumbleweeds" (Fine Line) -- Leaving an abusive boyfriend behind, single mother Janet McTeer and daughter Kimberly J. Brown head for the sunny suburbs of San Diego to start anew. Once again, McTeer swif ly enters into a destructive relationship and is tempted to look for an easy way out. However, her headstrong daughter, tired of her rootless existence, refuses to abandon her newly established life.