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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Celebrated British actor Sir Derek Jacobi has become the latest star to get involved with the crowdsourcing movement as his latest film project is reliant on public donations. The King's Speech actor has agreed to appear in a new sci-fi movie, Sun Never Sets, along with Harry Potter star Katie Leung, who will play his onscreen adopted daughter.
A statement from producers posted on the film's fundraising page on Kickstarter.com reads, "Our film is set in the near future where China has become the undisputed world power and the West is in disarray. Now, the tired and hungry people of Europe are fleeing to the great cities of China to seek a new life as economic migrants."
Leung is urging fans to make donations to the project, writing in a post on her Twitter.com page, "We need all the help we can get for this super cool project! If you like the sound of it please share and like etc."
The page had raised just $887 (£591) of a $37,500 (£25,000) goal as WENN went to press.
The right-to-die issue blew up in Britain on Thursday (16Aug12) after Tony Nicklinson, who is almost completely paralysed, lost his legal battle for an assisted suicide.
The decision has reignited the emotionally-charged debate over whether paralysed or terminally-ill patients should be allowed to decide when and how to die - and Leung has come out in support of Nicklinson.
In a post on Twitter.com, she writes, "Anyone living in such a clearly insufferable and rare circumstance like Tony should have the right to choose what to do with their life."
The British actress landed the role of Jung Chang in a stage version of the book Wild Swans, in which Chang details her family's life under a sparse Chinese regime.
To give her performance maximum authenticity, Leung agreed to forgo Western luxuries and spa treatments - and she celebrated the end of her run in the show with a manicure on Thursday (17May12).
Taking to her Twitter.com blog, the actress posted a photo of her newly-polished nails alongside the message, "Applying nail polish after 5 months of living under communist regime feels very strange... And a nude colour at that. We are so privileged it's insane how much one still whines. Now let's all MAN UP and apply some nail polish!"
Leung shot to fame playing the boy wizard's love interest Cho Chang, but she took time out from the film industry to enrol in a course at the University of the Arts London to build on her creative talents.
The actress, who is preparing to star in a London stage adaptation of bestselling novel Wild Swans, is convinced her most famous role has left her pigeon-holed and she is worried her ethnicity may also be affecting her ability to land roles.
She tells Britain's Daily Telegraph, "Potter was such a safe environment. You knew the next film would be round the corner and you would just go back to it. But afterwards I started to wonder if I was picked because I fitted the role physically; and was concerned that the character I played for the film wasn't particularly difficult.
"In general, the auditions I go up for are very sparse, I guess because of my ethnicity. And the characters are very similar: shy, innocent and naive; the connotations that come from the way that I look."
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.
Leung, who portrayed Daniel Radcliffe's girlfriend Cho Chang in the hit wizard movie franchise, will lead the cast in the production when it debuts at the American Repertory Theatre in Massachusetts in February (12). The play is also scheduled for a U.K. run in April (12).
The book, which was released in 1992, chronicles the true story of three female generations growing up in China. Leung will play the lead role of author Jung Chang.
Speaking about the project, she tells BBC News, "I look forward to performing this truly inspirational story on stage."
Author Chang is thrilled by the casting and the production as a whole, stating, "To see Wild Swans on stage - transferred into another art form - will be fantastic. It feels great to know that my book is in such good hands."
Leung, who shot to fame playing the boy wizard's love interest Cho Chang, considered pursuing an alternative career path after the final Potter movie was released this summer (11).
She tells Britain's Evening Standard, "Harry Potter was an amazing experience but I didn't know whether I was chosen on my acting ability or because I fitted the character at the time."
The 24 year old enrolled in an intensive drama course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland over the summer (11) and admits the classes reignited her desire to act.
Now she's set to make her stage debut in Wild Swans, an adaptation of Jung Chang's historical epic, (11) at London's Young Vic theatre in April (12).
She adds, "Going to drama college reconfirmed my passion for acting and then this stage work popped up. I'm really excited to be making my theatre debut. It's just an amazing opportunity and I couldn't have asked for anything better than this after Potter. I look forward to representing this truly inspirational story on stage."
Just days before the penultimate Potter film hits cinemas, the actress has beaten Keira Knightley to the top of a new Fandango.com poll.
Watson's Potter pals Katie Leung and Bonnie Wright also make the top list, as does Knightley's Never Let Me Go co-star Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt and Clash of the Titans star Gemma Arterton.
Over 4,000 film fans were polled for the online survey.
The top 10 list is:
1. Emma Watson
2. Keira Knightley
3. Emily Blunt
4. Sienna Miller
5. Gemma Arterton
6. Bonnie Wright
7. Rebecca Hall
8. Carey Mulligan
9. Katie Leung
10. Hayley Atwell.
Teen comedy Superbad is leading the nominations for the 2008 MTV Movie Awards after picking up five nods, including Best Movie.
The high school comedy, directed by Greg Mottola, also scooped nominations for the film's stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, who will compete in the Breakthrough Performance category along with their co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Hill is also up for Best Comedic Performance.
But Superbad will be going up against Oscar-winning Juno--which Cera also stars in--for the Best Movie prize, while the actor is also recognized for his efforts in the teen pregnancy film with a nomination for Best Male Performance.
Meanwhile, the big-screen adaptation of Transformers is nominated for three gongs: Best Movie, Best Male Performance for Shia LaBeouf and Breakthrough Performance for Megan Fox. And Enchanted star Amy Adams also received a trio of nods for the Disney film--Best Female Performance, Best Comedic Performance and Best Kiss for her smooch with Patrick Dempsey.
The winners for the 17th Annual MTV Movie Awards will be unveiled on June 1 at the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City, California.
The full list of nominees is as follows:
I Am Legend
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Best Comedic Performance:
Amy Adams - Enchanted
Johnny Depp - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Jonah Hill - Superbad
Seth Rogen - Knocked Up
Adam Sandler - I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Best Male Performance:
Michael Cera - Juno
Matt Damon - The Bourne Ultimatum
Shia LaBeouf - Transformers
Will Smith - I Am Legend
Denzel Washington - American Gangster
Best Female Performance:
Amy Adams - Enchanted
Jessica Biel - I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Katherine Heigl - Knocked Up
Keira Knightley - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Ellen Page - Juno
Nikki Blonsky - Hairspray
Chris Brown - This Christmas
Michael Cera - Superbad
Zac Efron - Hairspray
Megan Fox - Transformers
Jonah Hill - Superbad
Christopher Mintz-Plasse - Superbad
Seth Rogen - Knocked Up
Alien vs. Predator - Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
Hayden Christensen vs. Jamie Bell - Jumper
Matt Damon vs. Joey Ansah - The Bourne Ultimatum
Sean Faris vs. Cam Gigandet - Never Back Down
Tobey Maguire vs. James Franco - Spider-Man 3
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan vs. Sun Ming Ming - Rush Hour 3
Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men
Johnny Depp - Sweeney Todd
Topher Grace - Spider-Man 3
Angelina Jolie - Beowulf
Denzel Washington - American Gangster
Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey - Enchanted
Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman - Step Up 2 the Streets
Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer - Disturbia
Ellen Page and Michael Cera - Juno
Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Leung - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Best Summer Movie So Far:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sex and the City
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
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