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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It was perplexing enough when the world decided to give one biopic to software engineer/documented oddball John McAfee. But perplexing enough just isn't perplexing enough: The Hollywood Reporter has linked Warner Bros. to a second developing film about the antivirus mogul and his various legal troubles throughout South America. News broke on Monday that the studio could be funding a cinematic project based on a Wired article ("John McAfee's Last Stand") about McAfee's alleged criminal activity. All this on top of December's announcement that McAfee would play the focal character in Running in the Background: The True Story of John McAfee, a film by Impact Future Media, to whom McAfee himself sold his life rights.
That's right, two John McAfee movies. The major studio exploit and the independent project with questionable objectivity, as it always goes. See, the dueling biopics phenomenon is not one unique to the case of McAfee. Recent years have seen competing forces vie for the presentation of a shared subject's life story — a couple of instances are even in the works presently. Is there always a clear winner to the showdown, or are we left torn between contrasting portraits of great figures? Take a gander at what we think:
The Studio Movie: John McAfee's Last Stand adaptation (no official title)
Source Material: Wired article "John McAfee's Last Stand"
Creative Forces: Unknown
The Independent Film: Running in the Background: The True Story of John McAfee
Source Material: McAfee's life rights
Creative Forces: Unknown
The Champion: Yet to be determined, although we can bet that the latter, which McAfee himself is at least marginally involved on a production level, might be a little skewed away from objectivity... which could, actually, be quite interesting.
The Studio Movie: Hitchcock
Source Material: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello
Creative Forces: Director Sacha Gervasi; stars Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson
The HBO Film: The Girl
Source Material: Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto
Creative Forces: Director Julian Jarrold; stars Toby Jones and Sienna Miller
The Champion: The Girl is a far superior, more intricate and compelling film to the bland Hollywood output
The Studio Movie: Steve Jobs
Source Material: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (authorized biography)
Creative Forces: Writer Aaron Sorkin
The Independent Film: jOBS
Source Material: Unknown
Creative Forces: Director Joshua Michael Stern; stars Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad
The Champion: As much as we like Gad in costume as the Woz, we have to bet on the Sorkin power for this one.
The Sundance Premiere: Lovelace
Source Material: Unknown
Creative Forces: Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman; stars Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, and Sharon Stone
The Muddling-in-Oblivion Machination: Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story
Source Material: Unknown
Creative Forces: Director/writer Matthew Wilder; stars Malin Akerman, Matt Dillon, and Harold Perrineau
The Champion: Another TBD, but Sundance provides us with some very favorable thoughts about the former.
And one from the archives...
The Studio Movie: Capote
Source Material: Capote by Gerald Clarke
Creative Forces: Director Bennett Miller; stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Clifton Collins, Jr.
The Independent(ish) Film: Infamous
Source Material: Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Careerby George Plimpton
Creative Forces: Director/writer Douglas McGrath; Toby Jones (again!), Sandra Bullock, and Daniel Craig
The Champion: The Oscars were right on this one: Miller and Hoffman's rendition of the story was a dazzling feat — while Infamous, too, is a film worth your while, it doesn't quite live up to the spectacle that a character like Truman Capote deserves
The Democratic National Convention sure knows how to put on a good show. Following Michelle Obama's career-launching speech on Tuesday night, Former President Bill Clinton proved his aptitude in the trade of improv, going off script to deliver a 50 minute-long diatribe on behalf of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
Clinton's off-the-cuff speech wowed attendees of the DNC, and earned the former pres his spot on the Twitter's top trending topics list Thursday. It isn't just anybody who can make the spouting of facts about Medicaid feel like Showtime at the Apollo, but Clinton managed to land himself duly among the ranks of some of the greatest pieces of improv in pop culture history. So what other figures in Hollywood history have wowed the world with well-timed quick thinking? Clinton's in good company...
Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back
At the very end of the second original Star Wars movie, you may recall Han's heartbreaking goodbye to Princess Leia as he is doomed to the fate of carbonite imprisonment. The script called for Han to respond to Leia's profession of love with the standard, "I love you too." But Ford didn't feel as though this was in character for Han, and dealt the unforgettable, "I know."
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
One of the most quoted scenes in cinematic history came from actor De Niro himself on the set of Martin Scorsese's classic Taxi Driver, thanks to a relationship between the director and his star that bred creativity.
Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
You know that hissing sound Hannibal Lecter is so famous for making? That was all Hopkins.
Bill Murray in Caddyshack
In this case, it wasn't just a line or a few odd phrases that were improvised, but an entire scene. The comic grandmaster Murray invented his much beloved "It's in the hole!" scene all on his own for his pal Harold Ramis' comedy classic Caddyshack.
Jack Nicholson in The Shining
It's not surprising that one of the creepiest, most hair-raising moments in the definitively spooky The Shining came from the mind of the manic Nicholson himself. When dull boy Jack Torrance sets out on a violent prowl for his frightened wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), he spouts the unforgettable catchphrase, "Heeere's Johnny!" And we never watched The Tonight Show in peace again.
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
Perhaps the most memorable example on this list comes from the great Humphrey Bogart, who topped off the unforgettable ending to Casablanca with a line that would make even the toughest viewer well up a bit. When Bogart's Rick bids his final farewell to Ingrid Bergman's Isla, that tear-inducing line came straight from the mind of the actor himself: "Here's lookin' at you, kid."
[Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo]
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The Gallipoli star passed away at a hospice in Sydney on Sunday (11Dec11) after a battle with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer.
Hopkins, who started his career as a carpenter, starred in a number of films throughout his time in the spotlight and is best remembered for roles in 1976's Don's Party and 1981 war film Gallipoli opposite Mel Gibson.
He most recently auditioned for a role in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby earlier this year (11).
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.