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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Rapper Lil Wayne has issued an apology to Emmett Till's family after he rapped about the murdered African-American teenager in Future's track Karate Chop. In an unauthorized remix of the song, the hip-hop star makes reference to Till, who was brutally pistol-whipped and murdered in 1955 for flirting with a white girl in America's Deep South, rapping, "Beat the p**sy up like Emmett Till." The lyric infuriated Till's family, who claimed the tune was insensitive and disrespectful to the tragic 14 year old's memory, prompting activists to petition bosses at Mountain Dew to drop Lil Wayne as a spokesman due to his behaviour.
And now the Lollipop hitmaker, real name Dwayne Carter, Jr., has personally offered up an apology to Till's relatives after the song was pulled from the Internet by bosses at Epic Records. In an open letter addressed to the Till family, he writes, "As a recording artist, I have always been interested in word play. My lyrics often reference people, places and events in my music, as well as the music that I create for or alongside other artists. "It has come to my attention that lyrics from my contribution to a fellow artist's song has deeply offended your family. As a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain that your family has had to endure. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge your hurt, as well as the letter you sent to me via your attorneys. "Moving forward, I will not use or reference Emmett Till or the Till family in my music, especially in an inappropriate manner. I fully support Epic Record's decision to take down the unauthorized version of the song and to not include the reference in the version that went to retail. I will not be performing the lyrics that contain that reference live and have removed them from my catalogue."
He's done it again! Ever since X-Men: Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer took it upon himself to be his own movie’s publicist, he has revealed many new castings via his Twitter. Friday was no exception, as Singer posted a photo of a production office wall of actors' headshots with the caption, "3 #Oscars, 6 #GoldenGlobes, 1 #BAFTA, 2 #Emmys, 2 #Tonys, 5 #Oliviers, 1 #Ceaser - Now let's blow s**t up! #XMEN."
Along with the previously reported castings, Singer’s photo revealed three new names joining the film – well, more accurately two new names and one returning. Fan Bingbing, a Chinese actress best known for Double Exposure will be playing the teleporting mutant Blink. Daniel Cudmore is reprising his role as Colossus from X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. Boo Boo Stewart, best known for his role in The Twilight Saga, also joins the cast.
RELATED: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Director Teases Professor X's, Young and Old
Bingbing, Stewart, and Cudmore join previously cast Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, and Halle Berry.
Check out the full photo below to get a glimpse of our new X-Men!
X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters July 18, 2014.
Follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyBucksbaum
[Photo Credit: Getty Images/Twitter]
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UPDATE: Berry's spidey-senses were tingling correctly (I know, I know, Spider-Man is in a different universe). Her return for X-Men: Days of Future Past has just been confirmed by Deadline.
EARLIER: It's a big weekend for X-Men fans. First, the director of the upcoming sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer tweeted (below) that French actor Omar Sy from critical hit The Intouchables will join the film. And now, Halle Berry, who fans will remember as Storm in the original X-Men movies, says she "thinks" she's in for the new movie.
RELATED: Hugh Jackman Returning for 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'
During the junket for her new flick The Call, Berry told Access Hollywood that she's "in" for the movie, adding the super safe follow-up: "I think I'm in." Of course, it's not all that unlikely that Berry would return to reprise her explosive role in Singer's followup to X-Men: First Class. with Patrick Stewart returning to play his signature role as Professor Charles Xavier, Hugh Jackman coming back as Wolverine, and Anna Paquin returning as Rogue, it would seem a little lonely without Berry's beloved lady mutant along for the ride. Reps for Berry could not be reached for confirmation at the time of publication.
As for Sy, his role remains shrouded in mystery, as Singer only managed to reveal the fact that the actor will be in the film. Perhaps there's a mutant role just primed and ready for the French star?
RELATED: 'X-Men' Pics Feature Young and Old Prof X
Sy and (potentially) Berry join an already robust cast for X-Men: Days of Future Past, including Stewart, Jackman, Paquin, Ellen Paige, Sir Ian McKellan, and Jennifer Lawrence to name a few.
Thrilled to welcome the brilliant #OmarSy from the amazing film #TheIntouchables to the cast of #Xmen #DaysofFuturePast!
— Bryan Singer (@BryanSinger) March 2, 2013
[Photo Credit: Wenn]
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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.
Relativity Media announced today that it has struck a deal with Lionsgate to acquire the North American distribution rights for Machine Gun Preacher, a fact-based thriller starring Gerard Butler and directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace). According to Relativity's press release, the film features a "tour de force" performance from Butler, and has thus been slapped with a September 23, 2011 release date -- prime awards-season territory. The effusive praise for Butler sounds a tad dubious, if only because the actor's recent oeuvre includes such Oscar kryptonite as The Bounty Hunter and The Awful Truth, but who am I to doubt a studio press release?
Machine Gun Preacher had been slated to languish on Lionsgate's shelf for the foreseeable future, with an approximate release date of "whenever we get around to it," as the studio focused on rolling out its glut of titles. In addition to Butler, the film stars Michelle Monaghan (Due Date), Kathy Baker (Cold Mountain), Michael Shannon (Superman: Man of Steel), Madeline Carroll (The Spy Next Door) and newcomer Souleymane Sy Savane (Goodbye Solo). It chronicles the true-life tale of Sam Childers, an American biker-gang member who found God, traveled to Sudan, and started an organization to aid victims of the Lord's Resistance Army, a para-military force infamous for its use of child soldiers.
Source: Relativity Media
The British actor has approached producers about depicting the late Hallelujah hitmaker once he completes the last two movies in the vampire franchise.
But Pattinson, who sang on the Twilight soundtrack, will have to impress with his musicianship if he wants to land the coveted role.
Producer Michelle Sy says, "I've met actors who are keen on the part and Robert was one... The actor must be able to play music and sing, or at least make it believable he can do that."
The 24 year old has already received a vote of confidence from Mary Guibert, Buckley's mother, amid reports actors including James Franco and James Marsden are also vying for the part.
Guibert says, "Robert is a fine young actor. I'm flattered he's been linked to the project. When the times comes we'll give everybody an opportunity to be seen and heard."
Buckley drowned in Memphis, Tennessee in 1997 when he was just 30 years old.