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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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
S3E13: Glee may purport to be all roses and heart-shaped glitter, but things aren’t so shiny when you look up close. Some of those pieces of heart-shaped glitter are really cute and festive and – dare I say it – entertaining, but when the fun is over and the confetti settles, there’s just this big pile of crumpled, shiny paper that no one has the energy to clean up. Despite Brian Stokes Mitchell’s and Jeff Goldblum’s best and valiant attempts, the return of a newly healthy Blaine, and the tendency I have to love everything that comes draped in pink and read hearts, this episode helped a once great show continue its downward spiral.
“And now, commence the teenage love-making.” –Hiram Berry
Rachel's dads surprise Rachel and her betrothed in the auditorium with a piano – now we know where Rachel gets it from. Both dads feign happiness for Rachel and Finn’s impending marriage – but guess what? They’re not happy, because they're good parents even though they've been completely absent for two years.
First, Finn and Rachel make their happy announcement to the glee club and everyone quickly chooses sides – of course Quinn is on the anti-marriage side because she’s gone all independent woman since she came back from the dark side. Somehow, Rachel has gone from that terror shot when she realized she’d committed to Finn before she got her NYADA letter to blushing bride-to-be without so much as a hop, skip and a jump. Finn’s parents and Rachel’s parents have a little plan to make them realize their mistake: a big ol’ family Valentine’s dinner.
At the end of this awkward love fest, saved only by Jeff Goldblum’s always classic delivery of even the worst lines, both sets of parents drop the bomb: the blissful cohabitation starts now. Finn’s mom even brought him his jammies. But the parents’ brilliant plan backfires when Finn and Rachel recover from their first fight over her ridiculous bedtime regimen with even more determination to stay together. In fact, they’ve moved the wedding date up to the week after Nationals – you know, just in time for the season finale. Thankfully, we’re left there, but it seems this is the ridiculous plot that just won’t die. It’s so obvious that they’re nuts, but it’s almost like the writers believe their audience is torn. Hey guys, we’re not.
”When it comes to love, I don’t know who I am.” -Mercedes
Next, we have the most engaging couple on the whole show: Sam and Mercedes. Unfortunately, they suffered a contrived fate this week. Though there’s absolutely no reason they two of them would stop making googly eyes at each other, Mercedes finds an illogical loophole. Mercedes finally told Shane that she kissed Sam, and they promptly broke up. This should mean the course is clear for Samcedes, right? Wrong. Mercedes decides that she can’t be trusted to be in any relationship. Yes, because an adorable boy who’s been ardently pursuing you sang you a romantic song and then kissed you and you’re supposed to just smack him? Well, yes, of course, you’re not supposed to give in, but this is high school and let’s be honest: most high school girls would be hard pressed to make a better decision.
And this is where that awkwardly-timed rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” By no fault of the writers, Amber Riley, or the show itself, this performance was just a little hard to watch. Glee’s style is inherently goofy and garish, and normally using such a classic, emotional song would be just another example of the show’s hyperbolic use of music. But in light of Whitney Houston’s passing, it seems just a bit disrespectful. Of course, I reiterate: there’s no way the show could have prevented this because they filmed it long before the real-life tragedy struck.
But, it does the trick for Sam and Mercedes. Sam is furious; he obviously agrees Mercedes' reasoning is seriously flawed. They’re officially on the outs, which is conveniently awkward because they just happen to be in the four-member Christian club together. For some reason, this club also sings (oh wait, Glee Project winner Samuel Larson needed a place to sing at McKinley; that’s why), which leads to Quinn, Mercedes, Sam, and Larson’s uber-Christian hippie Joseph into singing songs about love together while Sam and Mercedes look miserable next to each other. We did not earn this form of television torture, writers. Just let them have at least some sort of romantic progress. PLEASE.
"All I want to do is be able to kiss my girlfriend, but no one can see that because there’s such an insane double standard at this school.” -Santana
And Joseph the religious zealot and hippie (is that even a thing?) intertwines his unnecessary plot into another storyline: that of prejudice against Santana and Brittany for their Lesbianism. Figgins gets a complaint because the two of them share a peck in the hallway – even though this is a school that once hosted a kissing booth for profit in the middle of the hallway – and Figgins decides he can’t allow the couple to display their affection in the halls.
This issue of inequality is handled fairly well, except that we never find out who issued the complaint. Instead, we simply see Santana take her anger out on the new guy: super Christian Joseph. Obviously, he was the one who complained, right? To test the theory, Santana orders a Valentine’s song gram from the Christian club and we watch Joseph sit motionless without agreeing to sing the song for a lesbian couple. In the end, he agrees to do it and we’re left to assume that he’s probably the guy who complained to the principal. It’s a little obtuse to let the new very religious guy take the blame for such a prejudice claim – sure he sang the song at the end and said he accepted Santana, but this show is all about how making assumptions is detrimental. Shouldn’t they have shown us that to assume the Christian kid did it is wrong? Or, if he did do it, have him admit it. This isn’t a series that thrives on subtlety and open-ended storylines; it can’t make that shift just once and expect it to fit within in the story.
"You think you love me?” –Kurt
All this week and last week, Kurt has been missing his sweetheart, Blaine, who is still laid up after the impossible rock salt slushie incident. Yet, somehow, Blaine is sending Valentines signed “secret admirer” from his state of bed rest. At least that’s what Kurt assumes. Well, there were two ways this could go. (Okay, there’s a third and it involves a new character, but I have faith that the writers wouldn’t add two unnecessary characters in one episode.) Option one is that the secret admirer is Sebastian, trying another hair-brained scheme to come between the happy duo. Option two is better, but still a little over the top: it’s Karovsky. It turns out to be option two, and Karovsky takes off his gorilla mask – because if there’s anything that whips Kurt into a frenzy, it’s linebackers dresses as gorillas – and admits that he thinks he’s in love with Kurt. He rattles off the list of reasons tracing back to the night at Scandals, the bullying, and the hate kiss. There’s just one issue: he hasn’t come out at his new school. And even though Sugar Shack nee Breadstix is hosting a private event, one of the football players from Karovsky’s new school over hears and this point of contention will likely come back into play at an arbitrary moment during the remainder of the season.
”No single people allowed. They’re sad and boring…and they don’t exist in my world.” –Sugar
And this is where I draw the line. How. Why. How. WHY. Sweet, sweet Rory and sweet, sweet Artie are both lovesick for one Sugar Motta. This is prefaced by Schue announcing they’re short on the regionals budget and Sugar’s response is waving a pile of cash in his face before announcing that everyone has to come to her party at Breadstix, which she’s forced her dad to rename Sugar Shack, after her. Sure, she gets everyone Valentine’s day presents, but this is the girl who, a few weeks ago turned Artie down because he was disabled and she feared what people would think. Now, she’s letting Artie and Rory shower her with gifts – including a real, live puppy – and finally serenade her to win her over. Artie chooses “Let Me Love You,” which was pretty sweet and it seems to win the brat over. But Rory pulls out the big guns: he’s being deported back to Ireland at the end of the year (is that how deportation works? Finish your schoolwork first, young laddie?). Later, it seems that Rory made the whole thing up to win over Sugar because she asks him about it and he forgets about it for a second. Now, there’s a teenage decision: lie to make something happen for Valentine’s Day, Feb. 15 consequences be damned.
We end the episode with the glorious, welcome, luminescent return of Blaine (can you tell we need him around here?) singing “Love Shack” with a little help from Kurt and some New Directions song birds. As usual, Glee can deliver a great show, so the song is a fantastic, romantic, upbeat production that lulls us into complacency. The plot may not make sense. It may make you question whether or not you’re reading a 15 year-old girl’s dream journal at times. But man, can these kids sing and dance.
What did you think of the episode? Were you disappointed at seeing so little of Jeff Goldblum? Do you think Finn and Rachel are nuts? Do you think Joseph is a weak character? Let me know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
There's no holiday Gleekier than Christmas, which is why the new Glee Christmas album, Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2, will make a perfect gift for any of your friends or family members who are particularly fascinated with the misadventures of the McKinley High student body. This year's Glee Christmas album will have a couple of special bonuses. The first will be the presence of The Glee Project contestants Damian McGinty, Samuel Larson, Lindsay Pearce and Alex Newell on the CD, singing in such songs as "Blue Christmas," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
The second, and even more exciting, surprise is the inclusion of two original songs as sung by the cast of Glee. The songs will be entitled "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" and "Christmas Eve With You."
Below is a full track listing, along with the names of the actors (and characters) who will be performing the songs. The album will be available Nov. 15.
1. 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' Featuring Amber Riley (Mercedes)
2. 'Extraordinary Merry Christmas' Featuring Darren Criss (Blaine) and Lea Michele (Rachel)
3. 'Santa Baby' Featuring Naya Rivera (Santana)
4. 'Christmas Eve With You' Featuring Jayma Mays (Emma) and Matthew Morrison (Will)
5. 'Little Drummer Boy' Featuring Kevin McHale (Artie)
6. 'River' Featuring Lea Michele (Rachel)
7. 'Do You Hear What I Hear?' Featuring Lindsay Pearce and Alex Newell ('Glee Project')
8. 'Let It Snow' Featuring Darren Criss (Blaine) and Chris Colfer (Kurt)
9. 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' Featuring Mark Sailing (Puck), Cory Monteith (Finn) and Samuel Larsen ('Glee Project')
10. 'Christmas Wrapping' Featuring Heather Morris (Brittany)
11. 'Blue Christmas' Featuring Damian McGinty (Rory)
12. 'Do They Know It's Christmas' Featuring Cory Monteith (Finn), Amber Riley (Mercedes), Lea Michele (Rachel), Chris Colfer (Kurt), Kevin McHale (Artie), Heather Morris (Brittany), Mark Salling (Puck), Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina), Naya Rivera (Santana)
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.