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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The 2013 nominees for the Writers Guild of America awards have been announced. Writers, you say? Yes, writers! The people that make words dance on pages to create the worlds in which our favorite shows flourish. Some people, when confronted with a brilliant episode of television automatically assume the credit for its general goodness should go to the actors. But what about the writers? They are often just as (if not more so) likely to be the reason you laughed, cried, gasped, guffawed, or squirmed in your seat during last week's episode of your favorite show.
These makers of televised scripts carry a good chunk of a show's success (and failure) on their shoulders, and leading the pack of successful witty wordsmiths? Lena Dunham and her HBO darling Girls. Overall, it seems as though cable dramas fared better than broadcast (which, duh), but on the flip-side, broadcast comedies outdid their cable brethren. Breaking Bad cleaned up in the episodic drama category, and comedy lady hero Amy Poehler got herself a nod for the episode of Parks and Recreation she penned, "The Debate."
Check out the full list of nominees below!
Boardwalk Empire written by Dave Flebotte, Diane Frolov, Chris Haddock, Rolin Jones, Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki, Andrew Schneider, David Stenn, Terence Winter; HBO
Breaking Bad written by Sam Catlin, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Gennifer Hutchison, George Mastras, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett; AMC
Game of Thrones written by David Benioff, Bryan Cogman, George R. R. Martin, Vanessa Taylor, D.B. Weiss; HBO
Homeland written by Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Meredith Stiehm; Showtime
Mad Men written by Lisa Albert, Semi Chellas, Jason Grote, Jonathan Igla, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Brett Johnson, Janet Leahy, Victor Levin, Erin Levy, Frank Pierson, Michael Saltzman, Tom Smuts, Matthew Weiner; AMC
30 Rock written by Jack Burditt, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Tom Ceraulo, Vali Chandrasekaran, Luke Del Tredici, Tina Fey, Lauren Gurganous, Matt Hubbard, Colleen McGuinness, Sam Means, Dylan Morgan, Nina Pedrad, John Riggi, Josh Siegel, Ron Weiner, Tracey Wigfield; NBC
Girls written by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Lena Dunham, Sarah Heyward, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Jenni Konner, Deborah Schoeneman, Dan Sterling; HBO
Louie written by Pamela Adlon, Vernon Chatman, Louis C.K.; FX
Modern Family written by Cindy Chupack, Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Elaine Ko, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Audra Sielaff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker; ABC
Parks and Recreation written by Megan Amram, Greg Daniels, Nate Dimeo, Katie Dippold, Daniel J. Goor, Norm Hiscock, Dave King, Greg Levine, Joe Mande, Aisha Muharrar, Nick Offerman, Chelsea Peretti, Amy Poehler, Alexandra Rushfield, Michael Schur, Mike Scully, Harris Wittels, Alan Yang; NBC
Girls written by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Lena Dunham, Sarah Heyward, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Jenni Konner, Deborah Schoeneman, Dan Sterling; HBO
The Mindy Project written by Ike Barinholtz, Jeremy Bronson, Linwood Boomer, Adam Countee, Harper Dill, Mindy Kaling, Chris McKenna, B.J. Novak, David Stassen, Matt Warburton; Fox
Nashville written by Wendy Calhoun, Jason George, David Gould, David Marshall Grant, Dee Johnson, Todd Ellis Kessler, Callie Khouri, Meredith Lavender, Nancy Miller, James Parriott, Liz Tigelaar, Marcie Ulin; ABC
The Newsroom written by Brendan Fehily, David Handelman, Cinque Henderson, Paul Redford, Ian Reichbach, Amy Rice, Aaron Sorkin, Gideon Yago; HBO
Veep written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Roger Drew, Sean Gray, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony Roche, Will Smith; HBO
“Buyout” (Breaking Bad), written by Gennifer Hutchison; AMC
"Dead Freight” (Breaking Bad), written by George Mastras; AMC
“Fifty-One” (Breaking Bad), written by Sam Catlin; AMC
“New Car Smell” (Homeland), written by Meredith Stiehm; Showtime
“The Other Woman” (Mad Men), written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner; AMC
“Say My Name” (Breaking Bad), written by Thomas Schnauz; AMC
“The Debate” (Parks and Recreation), written by Amy Poehler; NBC
“Episode 9” (Episodes), written by David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik; Showtime
“Leap Day” (30 Rock), written by Luke Del Tredici; NBC
“Little Bo Bleep” (Modern Family), written by Cindy Chupack; ABC
“Mistery Date” (Modern Family), written by Jeffrey Richman; ABC
“Virgin Territory” (Modern Family), written by Elaine Ko; ABC
LONG FORM – ORIGINAL
Hatfields and McCoys, Nights 2 and 3, teleplay by Ted Mann and Ronald Parker, Story by Bill Kerby and Ted Mann; History Channel
Hemingway & Gelhorn written by Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner; HBO
Pilot (Political Animals), written by Greg Berlanti; USA
LONG FORM – ADAPTED
Coma, Nights 1 and 2, teleplay by John McLaughlin, based on the book by Robin Cook; A&E
Game Change written by Danny Strong, based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann; HBO
“A Farewell to Arms” (Futurama), written by Josh Weinstein; Comedy Central
“Forget-Me-Not” (Family Guy), written by David A. Goodman; Fox
“Holidays of Future Passed” (The Simpsons), written by J. Stewart Burns; Fox
“Ned and Edna’s Blend Agenda” (The Simpsons), written by Jeff Westbrook; Fox
“Treehouse of Horror XXIII” (The Simpsons), written by David Mandel & Brian Kelley; Fox
COMEDY / VARIETY (INCLUDING TALK) – SERIES
The Colbert Report writers: Michael Brumm, Stephen Colbert, Rich Dahm, Paul Dinello, Eric Drysdale, Rob Dubbin, Glenn Eichler, Dan Guterman, Peter Gwinn, Barry Julien, Jay Katsir, Frank Lesser, Opus Moreschi, Tom Purcell, Meredith Scardino, Scott Sherman, Max Werner; Comedy Central
Conan writers: Jose Arroyo, Andres du Bouchet, Deon Cole, Josh Comers, Dan Cronin, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Laurie Kilmartin, Rob Kutner, Todd Levin, Brian McCann, Conan O'Brien, Matt O'Brien, Jesse Popp, Andy Richter, Brian Stack, Mike Sweeney; TBS
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart writers: Rory Albanese, Kevin Bleyer, Richard Blomquist, Steve Bodow, Tim Carvell, Hallie Haglund, J.R. Havlan, Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, Jo Miller, John Oliver, Zhubin Parang, Daniel Radosh, Jason Ross, Jon Stewart; Comedy Central
Jimmy Kimmel Live writers: Tony Barbieri, Jonathan Bines, Joelle Boucai, Sal Iacono, Eric Immerman, Gary Greenberg, Josh Halloway, Bess Kalb, Jimmy Kimmel, Jeff Loveness, Molly McNearney, Bryan Paulk, Danny Ricker, Rick Rosner; ABC
Key & Peele writers: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Sean Conroy, Colton Dunn, Charlie Sanders, Alex Rubens, Rebecca Drysdale; Comedy Central
Portlandia writers: Fred R. Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Karey Dornetto, Jonathan Krisel, Bill Oakley; IFC
Real Time With Bill Maher writers: Scott Carter, Adam Felber, Matt Gunn, Brian Jacobsmeyer, Jay Jaroch, Chris Kelly, Mike Larsen, Bill Maher, Billy Martin; HBO
Saturday Night Live Head writer: Seth Meyers. Writers: James Anderson, Alex Baze, Neil Casey, Jessica Conrad, James Downey, Shelly Gossman, Steve Higgins, Colin Jost, Zach Kanin, Chris Kelly, Joe Kelly, Erik Kenward, Rob Klein, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney, Christine Nangle, Mike O’Brien, Josh Patten, Paula Pell, Marika Sawyer, Sarah Schneider, Pete Schultz, John Solomon, Kent Sublette, Bryan Tucker, Additional Sketch By Emily Spivey, Jorma Taccone, Additional Material By Frank Sebastiano; NBC Universal
COMEDY / VARIETY – MUSIC, AWARDS, TRIBUTES – SPECIALS
66th Annual Tony Awards written by Dave Boone; special material by Paul Greenberg; opening and closing songs by David Javerbaum, Adam Schlesinger; CBS
2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards written by Billy Kimball, Wayne Federman; IFC
After the Academy Awards Head writers Gary Greenberg, Molly McNearney. Writers Tony Barbieri, Jonathan Bines, Sal Iacono, Eric Immerman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jeffrey Loveness, Bryan Paulk, Danny Ricker, Richard G. Rosner; ABC
National Memorial Day Concert written by Joan Meyerson; PBS
Days of Our Lives written by Lorraine Broderick, Carolyn Culliton, Richard Culliton, Rick Draughon, Christopher Dunn, Lacey Dyer, Janet Iacobuzio, David A. Levinson, Ryan Quan, Dave Ryan, Melissa Salmons, Roger Schroeder, Elizabeth Snyder, Christopher J. Whitesell, Nancy Williams Watt; NBC
One Life to Live written by Lorraine Broderick, Ron Carlivati, Anna Theresa Cascio, Daniel J. O’Connor, Elizabeth Page, Jean Passanante, Melissa Salmons, Katherine Schock, Scott Sickles, Courtney Simon, Chris Van Etten; ABC
The Young and the Restless written by Amanda Beall, Jeff Beldner, Brent Boyd, Susan Dansby, Janice Ferri Esser, Jay Gibson, Scott Hamner, Maria Kanelos, Natalie Minardi Slater, Beth Milstein, Michael Montgomery, Anne Schoettle, Linda Schreiber, Lisa Seidman, Sarah K. Smith, Christopher J. Whitesell, Teresa Zimmerman; CBS
CHILDREN'S – EPISODIC & SPECIALS
“The Good Sport” (Sesame Street), written by Christine Ferraro; PBS
CHILDREN’S – LONG FORM OR SPECIAL
Girl vs. Monster story by Annie De Young; teleplay by Annie De Young and Ron McGee; Disney Channel
Winners will be announced on February 17th at events in New York and Los Angeles. What do you think of this year's nominees? Let us know in the comments!
[Photo Credit: Jojo Whilden/HBO]
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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.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
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.