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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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.
Pitt hid marriage problems from family
Hollywood actor Brad Pitt's family is stunned he's separating from wife Jennifer Aniston--because he kept his marriage problems secret from his relatives. The Troy star's grandmother, Betty Russell, was surprised when she received a telephone call from Pitt's father giving her advance warning of the impending separation. Pitt's publicist Cindy Guagenti issued a statement on behalf of the couple on Friday in which it was announced they have officially separated after four and a half years of marriage. Russell, 82, says, "When I talked to Brad at Thanksgiving in November he was happy as a lark. He never gave any hint that something might be up. I was not aware of it until Wednesday when Brad's father called me. He said they were going to separate, have a trial separation. I was just advised not to be shocked when it happened. It was a surprise to us. Brad is a family man. I had no idea this was coming. Obviously I was very sad to hear it. I don't want my grandson or Jennifer to be hurt."
Pitt and Aniston's farewell flight
Former Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston shared a flight back to Los Angeles after announcing their four-year marriage was over. The Troy star and the Friends actress wife spent a week together on the Caribbean island of Anguilla before issuing a statement confirming the end of their union on Friday. But the love-split couple reunited for their return flight to Los Angeles the following day before going their separate ways. The 41-year-old hunk is now due to fly out to Japan to promote new movie Ocean's Twelve while 35-year-old Aniston is poised to start work on a new film. A friend says, "I don't think anyone really knows what their issues are but they're making the best of this. They're both committed to remaining friends. It's not the end of the world."
DeGeneres ex-lover seeks double revenge
The former girlfriend of Ellen DeGeneres is considering legal action against both the comedienne and her new lover, Ally McBeal actress Portia De Rossi. Chat show host DeGeneres ended her four-year relationship with photographer-director Alexandra Hedisonast month and is now sharing her Hollywood mansion with de Rossi, who recently split up with Ringo Starr's step-daughter Francesca Gregorini. Hedison is now planning to take palimony action against DeGeneres, and is reportedly suing de Rossi for "alienation of affection"--a legal phrase dating back to when seducing a spouse was regarded as theft. However, Richard Barry from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers tells British newspaper The Sunday Times this could be difficult to prove: "She would have to prove the seduction took place in those states which still recognise the law, like on holiday in Hawaii. If she can do that, she could cause a lot of financial damage."
DiCaprio's uncle: 'My nephew hasn't left Gisele'
Leonardo DiCaprio's uncle has lashed out at reports The Aviator star has split from longterm love Gisele Bundchen. The 30-year-old hunk has been dating the Brazilian supermodel on and off since 2000, but both are reluctant to discuss their relationship with the press, despite frequent rumours they have separated. But Dietmar Scheuner has confirmed his nephew flew to Recklinghausen, Germany with Bundchen to spend time with the actor's German family over the Christmas period, and their affectionate behaviour proved media reports wrong. Scheuner says, "He's still very much in love. All members of the family could see how happy the both of them are still together. She's a very pleasant girl. We had all had a good time together."
Evangelista's new flame
Sexy model Linda Evangelista has been spotted in the arms of a new man--pasta heir Paolo Barilla. Barilla--who raced as a Formula One driver in the 1980s--romanced the catwalk beauty in the tranquil Cortina D'Ampezzo resort in northern Italy, reports PageSix.com. Evangelista has previously been linked to Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and oil magnate Ugo Peretti.
Sutherland blames hearing problems on action roles
24 star Kiefer Sutherland blames his hearing problems on the numerous action movies he's performed in over the years. The London-born actor's hearing has deteriorated over the years, and he believes his career may have something to do with it. He says, "I'm pretty much almost all deaf in one ear and half deaf in the other. I think a lot of it is, I've been (acting) for about 20 years and (with) the gunfire (in movies) I can't wear the ear plugs because many times you have to have dialogue after, so you have to hear the other actor. I think the gunfire over the years has just kind of hurt my ears a bit."
Richardson refuses to live in mother's shadow
Nip/TuckTV star Joely Richardson refuses to live in her legendary parents Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson's shadows--preferring to judge her acting career on its own merit. The British actress, 40, is proud of her Oscar-winning mother, Vanessa and late director father, Tony's respective body of work, but is not intimidated by their phenomenal success. She says, "I don't think, 'Well, what I do that will take me up to the level of my parents?' I have to block that off and say, 'You know what? Look at me and what I've done totally apart from my parents', and remind myself, 'Yeah, I'm actually doing all right."
Coolidge writes for herself
Actress Jennifer Coolidge has been forced to write her own comedy scripts, because she's found there are no film roles available for funny women. Coolidge, who appears in Matt LeBlanc's sitcom Joey, has found that while male comedians can score great movie roles, women aren't as fortunate. She says, "There are tons of these Adam Sandler/Jim Carrey movies. They don't have these vehicles for women. That's why my boyfriend and I are seriously writing."
Newman escapes fire
Hollywood actor Paul Newman has escaped serious injury after a sports car he was testing caught fire at Florida's Daytona Beach racetrack. The 79-year-old Oscar-winning star fled the vehicle after flames appeared from the engine compartment following his attempt to restart after spinning on a turn. Racing car enthusiast Newman says, "I don't know what happened. I'm fine. It just caught fire somehow." Organisers The Grand American Road Racing Association comment, "Newman made his way out of the car, was taken to the track's infield medical centre for precautionary measures and was released."
Robert plans pregnancy movie
New Hollywood mum Julia Roberts enjoyed pregnancy so much, she's planning a new movie about impending motherhood. The actress, who gave birth to twins Phinnaeus Walter and Hazel Patricia last November, is attempting to obtain film rights to best-selling British author Tony Parson's new novel The Family Way. The novelist's spokesperson tells PageSix.com. "Things are at an advanced stage. No contracts have been signed as yet, but we are currently in talks with Revolution Studios, with whom Julia has a deal."
Stephen King buys haunted house
Horror writer Stephen King has bought a haunted mansion next door to his home in Bangor, Maine. The Carrie author and his wife Tabitha paid $720,000 for the spooky three-storey Victorian building--known as the 'Charles P House'. But King, whose books have frightened millions of readers around the world, is not scared. A neighbor of the author says, "Stephen's not worried about a ghost. He thinks it adds character."
Grant's 'secret gay marriage'
Hollywood legend Cary Grant's shocking new biography alleges the late actor shared a secret "gay marriage" with American movie hunk Randolph Scott. Marc Eliot's book Cary Grant: Grant's Secret Sixth Marriage goes a long way to blow away the Nort by NorthwestT icon's image as a heterosexual lothario, although chronologically it would have been his first marriage. Eliot claims Grant embarked on a homosexual relationship with the rugged actor, who was known as Randy, after they met on the set of 1932 movie Hot Saturday, and their mutual physical attraction was immediate and strong. The actors lived together for the next 12 years, but separated when Randy became jealous of Grant's blooming romance with actress Virginia Cherrill.
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Julia Roberts might very well be the hardest working woman in Hollywood.
With "American Sweethearts" and the "Ocean’s Eleven" remake already in the works, the $20 mil actress is in talks to star in another high-profile project.
In "Replay," Roberts would reteam with Brad Pitt -- whom the actress worked with in the upcoming "The Mexican" and will be working with again in "Ocean’s Eleven" -- where she plays the former love of a deceased man (Pitt) who comes back to life to correct his mistakes.
The project will mark the first collaboration between ex-Disney head Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios and Warner Bros.
MOVING IN: Daily Variety reports that Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore will star in "The Duplex." The comedy is about a young couple trying to move into a swanky New York duplex.
COOL CATS: Get ready for some catting around: Jennifer Tilly, Kirsten Dunst and multiple Emmy winner Eddie Izzard have joined the production of "The Cat’s Meow," The Hollywood Reporter says. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich ("The Last Picture Show"), the film chronicles the scandal behind the murder of a Hollywood power broker aboard tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s yacht during the 1920s.
PIANO LESSONS: The Reporter also says that indie-minded actor Adrien Brody might star as the late Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s aptly titled project "The Pianist." Brody apparently beat out thousands of hopefuls for the role after Polanski placed a wanted ad in a London paper.
HEAD TRIPPING: Variety reports that actress Alfre Woodard will join Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges in the "K-Pax." The film is about a psychiatric patient (Spacey) who claims to be from another planet. Bridges will play the psychiatrist and Woodard his boss.