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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Ladies and gentlemen, we're making our final descent towards naming a Best Picture of 2011.
With the Golden Globes behind us and Academy Award nominations hitting next week (with the show arriving at the tail end of February), the limbo week between them is reserved for the coveted BAFTAs, the UK equivalent of the Oscars. After picking up a few statues at the Globes, feel good favorite of the year The Artist leads the pack in the BAFTA nods with a whopping 12 nominations. Behind the silent comedy are the British spy drama Tinker Tailor Solider Spy with 11 noms and Hugo with 9. Can the BAFTAs give a much-needed boost to the latter two films? Only time will tell…The BAFTAs announce their winners February 12.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Outstanding British Film
My Week With Marilyn
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Outstanding Debut by a Writer, Director or Producer
Attack The Block - Joe Cornish (Director/Writer)
Black Pond - Will Sharpe (Director/Writer), Tom Kingsley (Director), Sarah Brocklehurst (Producer)
Coriolanus - Ralph Fiennes (Director)
Submarine - Richard Ayoade (Director/Writer)
Tyrannosaur - Paddy Considine (Director), Diarmid Scrimshaw (Producer)
Film Not in the English Language
The Skin I Live In
George Harrison: Living In The Material World
The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Tomas Alfredson - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Lynne Ramsay - We Need To Talk About Kevin
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids
John Michael McDonagh - The Guard
Abi Morgan - The Iron Lady
Woody Allen - Midnight In Paris
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash - The Descendants
Tate Taylor - The Help
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon - The Ides Of March
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin - Moneyball
Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn
Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Viola Davis - The Help
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Jim Broadbent - The Iron Lady
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Ides of March
Carey Mulligan - Drive
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Judi Dench - My Week with Marilyn
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer - The Help
The Artist - Ludovic Bource
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Hugo - Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Alberto Iglesias
War Horse - John Williams
The Artist - Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo - Robert Richardson
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Hoyte van Hoytema
War Horse - Janusz Kaminski
The Artist - Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
Drive - Mat Newman
Hugo - Thelma Schoonmaker
Senna - Gregers Sall, Chris King
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Dino Jonsater
The Artist - Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Hugo - Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana MacDonald
War Horse - Rick Carter, Lee Sandales
The Artist - Mark Bridges
Hugo - Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre - Michael O'Connor
My Week With Marilyn - Jill Taylor
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Jacqueline Durran
Make Up & Hair
The Artist - Julie Hewett, Cydney Cornell
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin
Hugo - Morag Ross, Jan Archibald
The Iron Lady - Marese Langan
My Week With Marilyn - Jenny Shircore
The Artist - Nadine Muse, Gérard Lamps, Michael Krikorian
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 - James Mather, Stuart Wilson, Stuart Hilliker, Mike Dowson, Adam Scrivener
Hugo - Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Casali, Howard Bargroff, Doug Cooper, Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley
War Horse - Stuart Wilson, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Richard Hymns
Special Visual Effects
The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn - Joe Letteri
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Tim Burke, John Richardson, Greg Butler, David Vickery
Hugo - Rob Legato, Ben Grossman, Joss Williams
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White
War Horse - Ben Morris, Neil Corbould
The Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.