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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Saturday was a big day for the TV world as the 2012 Creative Emmys took place. Hollywood.com was both backstage and on the carpet, bringing you the scoop direct from the source. HBO and its epic hit Game of Thrones were the night's biggest winners, with the network taking home 17 statues — six of them for GoT. CBS wasn't far behind with 13 wins, followed by PBS with 11. Frozen Planet, Great Expectations, and Saturday Night Live each took home four awards, resulting in a three-way-tie for second place after Game of Thrones. See below for the list of winners:
Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series: Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein, Judy Henderson, Craig Fincannon, Lisa Mae Fincannon for Homeland
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special: David Rubin, Richard Hicks, Pat Moran, Kathleen Chopin for Game Change
Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series: Jennifer Euston for Girls
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: Kathy Bates for Two and A Half Men
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie, or a Special: Greg Nicotero, Jake Garber, Andy Schoneberg, Kevin Wasner, Gino Crognale, Carey Jonse, Garrett Immel for The Walking Dead
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic): Mario Michisanti, Francesca Tampieri for Hatfields & McCoys
Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic): Paul Engelen, Melissa Lackersteen for Game of Thrones
Outstanding Makeup for a Multi-Camera Series or Special (Non-Prosthetic): Zena Shteysel, Angela Moos, Patti Ramsey Bortoli, Barbara Fonte, Sarah Woolf, Nadege Schoenfeld for Dancing With the Stars
Outstanding Costumes for a Series: Michele Clapton, Alexander Fordham, Chloe Aubry for Game of Thrones
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special: Annie Symons, Yvonne Duckett for Great Expectations
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie: Monte C. Haught, Samantha Wade, Melanie Verkins, Natalie Driscoll, Michelle Ceglia for American Horror Story
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special: Bettie O. Rogers, Jodi Mancuso, Inga Thrasher, Jennifer Stauffer, Cara Hannah Sullivan, Christal Schanes for Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series: Anne "Nosh" Oldham, Christine Greenwood for Downton Abbey
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Jeremy Davies for Justified
Outstanding Choreography: Joshua Bergasse for Smash ("National Pastime", "Let's Be Bad", "Never Met A Wolf")
Outstanding Music Direction: Rob Berman, Rob Mathes for The Kennedy Center Honors
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score): John Lunn for Downton Abbey
Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special (Original Dramatic Score): Javier Navarrete for Hemingway & Gellhorn
Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics: Adam Schlesinger, David Javerbaum for the 65th Annual Tony Awards ("It's Not Just for Gays Anymore")
Outstanding Art Direction for a Multi-Camera Series: Glenda Rovello, Amy Feldman for 2 Broke Girls ("And The Rich People Problems", "And The Reality Check", And The Pop Up Sale")
Outstanding Art Direction for Variety or Nonfiction Programming: Brian Stonestreet, Alana Billingsley, Matt Steinbrenner for The 54th Annual Grammy Awards, and Steve Bass, Seth Easter for The 65th Annual Tony Awards
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie: David Roger, Paul Ghirardani, Jo Kornstein for Great Expectations
Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series: Bill Groom, Adam Scher, Carol Silverman for Boardwalk Empire, and Gemma Jackson, Frank Walsh, Tina Jones for Game of Thrones
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series: Jordan Goldman, David Latham for Homeland
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series: Steven A. Rasch for Curb Your Enthusiasm ("Palestinian Chicken")
Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series: Sue Federman for How I Met Your Mother ("Trilogy Time")
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie: Don Cassidy for Hatfields & McCoys - Part 2
Outstanding Picture Editing for Short-Form Segments and Variety Specials: Bill DeRonde, Chris Lovett, Mark Stepp, Pi Ware, John Zimmer, Ben Folts for 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming: Andy Netley, Sharon Gillooly for Frozen Planet ("Ends of the Earth")
Outstanding Picture Editing for Reality Programming: Josh Earl, Alex Durham for Deadliest Catch ("I Don't Wanna Die")
Outstanding Animated Program: Bob Schooley, Mark McCorkle, Bret Haaland, Nick Filippi, Chris Neuhahn, Ant Ward, Andrew Heubner, David Knott, Shaun Cashman, Steve Loter, Christo Stamboliev for The Penguins of Madagascar: The Return of the Revenge of Dr. Blowhole
Outstanding Short-Format Animated Program: Brian A. Miller, Jennifer Pelphrey, Curtis Lelash, Rob Sorcher, JG Quintel, Mike Roth, Janet Dimon, Matt Price, Jack Thomas, John Infantino, Robert Alvarez for Regular Show ("Eggscellent")
Outstanding Voice-Over Performance: Maurice LaMarche for Futurama
Syd Cassyd Founders Award: Dick Askin
Governors Award: Dan Savage, Terry Miller for "It Gets Better"
Outstanding Special Visual Effects: Rainer Gombos, Juri Stanossek, Sven Martin, Steve Kullback, Jan Fielder, Chris Stenner, Tobias Mannewitz, Thilo Ewers, Adam Chazen for Game of Thrones ("Valar Morghulis")
Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role: Dave Taritero, Robert Stromberg, Richard Friedlander, Eran Dinur, David W. Reynolds, Matthew Conner, Austin Meyers, Jonathan Dorfman, Steve Kirshoff for Boardwalk Empire ("Georgia Peaches")
Outstanding Stunt Coordination: Peewee Piemonte for Southland
Outstanding Main Title Design: Nic Benns, Rodi Kaya, Tom Bromwich for Great Expectations
Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music: Paul Englishby for Page Eight
Outstanding Commercial: "Best Job" (Procter & Gamble Corporate Brand) – Wieden + Kennedy, Ad Agency; Anonymous Content, Production Company
Outstanding Sound Mixing For Nonfiction Programming: Tom Paul for Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour): Matthew Waters, Onnalee Blank, Ronan Hill, Mervyn Moore for Game Of Thrones ("Blackwater")
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie: Stanomir Dragos, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern for Hatfields & McCoys — Part 1
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation: Stephen A. Tibbo, Dean Okrand, Brian R. Harman for Modern Family ("Dude Ranch")
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series or Special: Paul Sandweiss, Tommy Vicari, Pablo Munguia, Kristian Pedregon for 84th Annual Academy Awards
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special: Douglas Murray, Peter Horner, Kim Foscato, Steve Boeddeker, Casey Langfelder, Andrea Gard, Pat Jackson, Daniel Laurie, Goro Koyama, Andy Malcolm, Joanie Diener for Hemingway & Gellhorn
Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera): Kate Hopkins, Tim Owens, Paul Fisher for Frozen Planet — Ends of the Earth
Outstanding Sound Editing For a Series: Peter Brown, Kira Roessler, Tim Hands, Paul Aulicino, Stephen P. Robinson, Vanessa Lapato, Brett Voss, James Moriana, Jeffrey Wilhoit, David Klotz for Game of Thrones ("Blackwater")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series: Steven V. Silver for Two and a Half Men ("Sips, Sonnets, and Sodomy")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series: Jonathan Freeman for Boardwalk Empire ("21")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie: Florian Hoffmeister for Great Expectations
Outstanding Cinematography for Reality Programming: The Deadliest Catch team ("I Don't Want To Die")
Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming: The Frozen Planet team ("Ends of the Earth")
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Series: Steven Cimino, John Pinto, Paul J. Cangialosi, Len Weschler, Barry Frischer, Eric A. Einstein, Susan Noll, Frank Grisanti for Saturday Night Live (Host Mick Jagger)
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Miniseries, Movie or Special: Steven Cimino, Paul J. Cangialosi, John Pinto, Chuck Goslin, Barry Frischer, Jeff Latonero, Len Weschler, Susan Noll, J.M. Hurley for Memphis (Great Performances)
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Series: Robert Barnhart, Matt Firestone, Pete Radice, Patrick Boozer for So You Think You Can Dance (Season Eight Finale)
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special: Robert A. Dickinson, Jon Kusner, Travis Hagenbuch, Andy O'Reilly for The 54th Annual Grammy Awards
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Jimmy Fallon for Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming: Martin Scorsese for George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming: Geoffrey C. Ward for Prohibition — A Nation of Hypocrites
Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking: Connie Field, Lois Vossen, Sally Jo Fifer for Have You Heard From Johannesburg (Independent Lens)
Outstanding Nonfiction Special: Margaret Bodde, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Blair Foster, Olivia Harrison, Nigel Sinclair, Martin Scorsese for George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Outstanding Nonfiction Series: Alastair Fothergill, Susan Winslow, Vanessa Berlowitz for Frozen Planet
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series: Don Roy King for Saturday Night Live (Host Mick Jagger)
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series: Tim Carvell, Rory Albanese, Kevin Bleyer, Rich Blomquist, Steve Bodow, Wyatt Cenac, Hallie Haglund, JR Havlan, Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, Jo Miller, John Oliver, Zhubin Parang, Daniel Radosh, Jason Ross, Jon Stewart for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Outstanding Variety Special: George Stevens, Jr., Michael M. Stevens for The Kennedy Center Honors
Outstanding Special Class Programs: Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss, Neil Patrick Harris for 65th Annual Tony Awards
Outstanding Special Class: Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs: Rob Corddry, Jonathan Stern, David Wain, Keith Crofford, Nick Weidenfeld, Rich Rosenthal for Children's Hospital
Outstanding Special-Class: Short-Format Nonfiction Programs: Michael M. Stevens for DGA Moments In Time
Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media — Enhancement to a Television Program or Series: John Wooden, Aaron Bleyaert, Conan O'Brien, Timothy Campbell for The Team Coco Sync App
Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media — Original Interactive Television Programming: Fourth Wall Studios for Dirty Work
Outstanding Children's Program: Ben Montanio, Vince Cheung, Todd J. Greenwald, Gigi McCreery, Perry Rein, Richard Goodman, Greg A. Hampson for Wizards of Waverly Place
Outstanding Children's Nonfiction, Reality or Reality-Competition Program: Carol-lynn Parente, Melissa Dino, Mason Rather, Kevin Clash for Sesame Street: Growing Hope Against Hunger
Outstanding Reality Program: Eli Holzman, Stephen Lambert, Chris Carlson, Scott Cooper, Sandi Johnson, Rachelle Mendez, Lety Quintanar, Rebekah Fry for Undercover Boss
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Martha Plimpton for The Good Wife
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Bill Hader an Emmy or I'll Sic DJ Baby Bok Choy On You
The First-Ever (Fake) Annual Reality TV Emmy Awards
What Jimmy Kimmel Can Learn From Past Emmy Hosts
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.