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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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With two words, Jason Collins stepped out of the closet and into the history books on Monday: "I'm gay." Collins writes in an article for Sports Illustrated, "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation." And we're so glad he did.
Collins, 34, has played in the NBA for 12 years, most recently with the Washington Wizards, but on the cover of Sports Illustrated he is branded as simply "The Gay Athlete," a title Collins now wears with pride. As Collins explains in SI, however, this wasn't always the case.
"When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way," Collins writes. "I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue."
Of his decision to come out, Collins says, "No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly."
While Collins' announcement has largely been met with a sense of excitement, support, and encouragement (with tweets of gratitude and support coming from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Kobe Bryant, among others), some have not been so accepting of Collins' news. ESPN analyst Chris Broussard most notably — and despicably— said live on a special edition ESPN's Outside the Lines, "If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, [but] adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals … I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God."
Others, meanwhile, have raised eyebrows at the timing of Collins' announcement. Currently a free agent, Collins is looking to be signed again next year, and Nike has reportedly expressed interest in signing the first openly gay male athlete to a major endorsement deal. People are asking, Is Collins cashing in on his homosexuality? In an article titled "Be Happy for Jason Collins," Grantland writer Brian Phillips tackles this issue head on. "We have a tendency, or anyway I do, to skip past the important part of any given issue, which we usually grasp right away, and stake out positions on some knowing or contrarian periphery," Phillips writes.
But Phillips urges readers and fans to resist falling back on their cynicism. "Some will surely taunt him; some will cheer him. Either way, he’ll be out there," he writes. "And simply by being out there, he’ll make it a little easier for another gay player to feel free to be himself, and a little easier for the world to accept him when he does."
And that's the message Collins leaves us with as well. "Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start," he writes for SI. "The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. I'm much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy."
Collins' honesty make us happy, too. Happy and hopeful for a culture in which a male athlete won't have to announce his sexual orientation on the cover of a national magazine. We're getting there.
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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.
Full disclosure: we are big fans of Mr. Melissa McCarthy aka Ben Falcone. So when we heard the news he was finally getting a show of his own that might get picked up (CBS recently passed on a pilot he co-wrote and starred in), we did a very Napoleon Dynamite-esque "YES!" from our chair. According to Deadline, the show, titled I'm Not Dead Yet, is TV Land’s first single-camera pilot. (Their other shows are all multi-camera.)
Written by Jon Sherman (of Fraiser fame), the show is about Sandy (Falcone), a man who finds out that he has a rare heart condition that could leave him dead as a doornail at any given moment. Sheesh! The crisis-inducing revelations brings clarity for Falcone's character, whose then decides to start speaking his mind and living life to the fullest. I believe this is what they call a YOLO Show. (Just kidding no one says that because no one is that terrible.)
Falcone is most well-known for his Target commercials and as the hilarious counterpart to his wife's character Megan in Bridesmaids, also known as Air Marshall Jon. When it comes to this show, we'll take the first watch. No! We know; you're not actually an air marshall. We've got first watch.
Also joining the TV Land family is another comedian, Jay Mohr, who's taking on a role in Brothers-In-Law. The show (which sounds like it will be filled with zany antics and total shenanigans), revolves around a husband (Josh Cooke) and the eccentric new boyfriend (Mohr) of his wife’s fraternal twin sister (Ellen Woglom), who have nothing in common but the sisters that continually force them to bond. Crazy!
These two shows continue TV Land's foray into the comedic landscape, with their returning shows The Exes and Hot in Cleveland.
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Emmy Winner Melissa McCarthy to Co-Create New Sitcom
Jay Mohr Joins 'Suburgatory'
'Bridesmaids' Star Melissa McCarthy Sells Another Sitcom to CBS
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.
The actor was handcuffed by cops after the scuffle at Mad Bull's Tavern in Sherman Oaks, California, and detained for 20 minutes before he was allowed to leave the scene.
No arrests were made, and the fuss over the troubled star's latest run-in with the law was quickly forgotten, but LaBeouf was happy to talk about the incident when he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show on Monday (16May11).
He said, "I can't say I wasn't a part of it. I was a part of it. I walked out to go and have a cigarette; I was with some friends and some guys instigated me and that's what it was. (There was) some name calling. I didn't know them.
"It was just an awkward situation... People get drunk, people get crazy."
The Transformers star insisted the media taunts aimed at him after the fight meant nothing to him - because his mum accepted he hadn't just started a fight during a night out.
He added, "The only opinion that really counts for me, and I don't care how cheesy it sounds, is my mother's opinion. It's a serious deal for me."