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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Apocalypse pretty much picks up where Resident Evil left off. Alice (Milla Jovovich) the heroine from the original who escaped the Umbrella Corp.'s underground "Hive" and its zombie denizens awakens in a cold laboratory to find herself alone in a ravaged Raccoon City. Apparently the T-cell virus that destroyed the Hive has been unleashed on the city turning the metropolis into Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. On a more positive note Alice has also somehow been genetically altered and now possesses superhuman strengths senses and dexterity--which is nice. Her skills comes in handy when she joins up with a rag-tag group of uninfected survivors including Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) a member of the Umbrella Corp.'s elite Special Tactics and Rescue Services (meaning she's excellent at shooting guns); Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) a biohazard countermeasure force leader (he's not too bad at the gun thing either); Teri Morales (Sandrine Holt) a journalist trying to get the "real" story and L.J. (Mike Epps) a wisecracking civilian caught up in the mayhem. But in order to get out of Dodge Alice and the gang need to wade their way through the relentless onslaught of the ravenous undead as well as the malevolent Umbrella forces and bio-engineered weapons. Yeah and you thought going to work on Mondays was bad.
Just by looking at the petite Milla Jovovich one wouldn't imagine the sort of physical prowess she possesses; she can really pull off this action-heroine stuff. Not like that's a big surprise. Ever since The Fifth Element and the original Resident Evil Jovovich has easily convinced us she is more than capable of kicking the bejeezus out of the nasty baddies she encounters while also managing to convey some genuine human emotion. Yet Apocalypse has an extra bonus because not only is there one kick-ass female but two which thankfully makes Apocalypse much more exciting than say the incredibly boring Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. British actress Guillory plays the sexy Jill Valentine a popular character from the video game (who of course is scantily clad in a tube top short skirt and big black boots) who has the same steely self-control as Alice firing off her weapons with aplomb. Although prickly at first the two gain some hard-earned respect. As the only male zombie-kicker Fehr (The Mummy) complements the ladies nicely with his handy dandy knife-throwing and well-choreographed moves while Epps (The Fighting Temptations) offers appropriate comic relief without being too obnoxious about it.
The first two Resident Evil installments is reminiscent of the first two installments in the Alien series. Differing from Alien only in the fact it was already a well-known video game the original Resident Evil kept things contained and creepy as a small band of soldiers investigate what happened in the Hive as did Alien. Then when it came time for the sequels both franchises decided to come out like gangbusters with more guns more monsters and more explosions. The formula works. First-time director Alexander Witt who worked with the original Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson as an assistant director gets the hang of things pretty quickly inundating audiences with eye-popping thrills and Matrix-esque action sequences. Witt also brings back some favorites from the original including the undead Dobermans who look like they've been turned inside out; and the Lickers those lovely biochemical experiments with long-whipping tongues they use to snatch their prey. The problem is the film's flow; it simply is too much like a video game. While the individual segments are seat-grabbing the overall cohesiveness gets lost at times even if the ending leaves things wide open for a third film.
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).