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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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
When you start out on a really popular television show, it's great. You have regular work, people start to know your name, you get recognized as your character everywhere you go. But what about when the show ends? Then what happens?
Those stars are remembered as their former characters for almost the rest of their lives. Hell, even Neil Patrick Harris, who's grown his stardom and made a name as a completely new character on How I Met Your Mother, still has to endure being referred to as Doogie Howser. Jenny Garth will always be Kelly Taylor. Alfonso Ribeiro will always be known as Carlton and he'll probably always have to deal with people teasing him about that fantastic Tom Jones dance. But how do you continue a career after you've charmed the masses as a single character for so long? Well, for some folks, hopping right back into television is the answer, and if the slate of new shows from the major networks and a few of the cable ones is any indication, that's the name of the game for the summer and fall television seasons.
It's a great time to be a comeback kid, so we've put together a list of our top ten not-so-new television faces that you'll soon find on the boob tube. Is it just us, or are a lot of these comebacks just grown-up versions of these actors' original roles?
10. Eddie Cibrian
Known for: Third Watch, CSI: Miami, CHEATING ON HIS WIFE WITH LEANN RIMES.
Characteristics: CHEATED ON HIS WIFE.
New role: Playboy Club key-holder, and Don-Draper-wannabe Nick Dalton (NBC's The Playboy Club).
New Characteristics: Nick's not married, but come on, he's a Don Draper-esque character in a club full of scantily-clad women. He would totally CHEAT ON HIS WIFE -- if he had one.
9. Wilmer Valderrama
Known for: Playing Fez on That 70's Show, dating Lindsay Lohan for three seconds.
Characteristics: Fez was generally desperate and pervy, his real-life relationship with LiLo didn't help dispel the theory that he wasn't acting
New role: Detective Efram Vega (NBC's Awake).
New Characteristics: Details are few and far between at the moment, but it's a drama that looks pretty fantastic. We're guessing there's little room for Fezzian shenanigans -- though there is room for the signature Fez look of confusion -- so we might see some serious acting from the former campy comedy star. I still hope he sneaks in one "Goodday."
8. Katharine McPhee
Known for: Losing to Taylor Hicks on Season 5 of American Idol.
Characteristics: Aesthetically pleasing, decent singing voice, accused of making it to top two for her looks.
New role: The underdog, a Broadway actress who miraculously scores the lead in a musical about Marilyn Monroe (NBC's Smash)
New Characteristics: Aesthetically pleasing, decent singing voice, is propositioned by the director because of her looks.
7. Laura Prepon
Known for: Playing (Hot) Donna on That 70's Show.
Characteristics: Spunky redhead, tomboy, outspoken, understated babe.
New role: Reincarnation of Chelsea Handler...also named Chelsea (NBC's Are You There, Vodka?)
New Characteristics: Spunky blonde, semi-tomboy, outspoken, understated babe, alcoholic.
6. Rachel Bilson
Known for: Playing Summer on The OC.
Characteristics: Bratty, spoiled, prissy, headstrong, obsessed with her long-term, super-nerdy boyfriend, but somehow ultimately lovable.
New role: Zoe Hart, headstrong, big-city doctor plopped into a small town (CW's Hart of Dixie).
New Characteristics: A little spoiled from big-city living, headstrong, lovably outspoken with a hint of bratty, surrounded by cute men.
5. Debra Messing
Known for: Playing Grace on Will and Grace.
Characteristics: Talented, artistic, perpetually single middle-aged New York woman surrounded by talented, successful gay men and Karen.
New role: Julia, a lyricist writing a Marilyn Monroe musical (NBC's Smash).
New Characteristics: Talented, artistic, middle-aged New York woman working with her talented, successful, gay song-writing partner, Tom.
4. Tim Allen
Known for: Playing Tim "The Toolman" Taylor on Home Improvement (and of course playing Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies, but we're not focusing on that on that right now).
Characteristics: Grunts often, doesn't understand women, doesn't actually know how to use the tools he hosts a show about, has a wife and kids who love him anyway.
New role: A marketing director for big ol' sporting good store (ABC's Last Man Standing).
New Characteristics: Complains often, doesn't understand women, actually knows a thing or two about sporting goods (maybe a little too much), has a wife and kids who love him anyway.
3. Sarah Michelle Gellar
Known for: Kicking vampire ass as Buffy on...Buffy.
Characteristics: Dark, brooding sexpot with a killer instinct, a troubled past, and lots of trouble in her future.
New role: One of two twins who steals her deceased sister's life in order to escape her own demons (CW's Ringer).
New Characteristics: Dark, brooding sexpot with a killer instinct, a troubled past, and lots of trouble in her future (minus the vampires, ghosts, hellmouths and actual demons).
2. Mark-Paul Gosselaar
Known for: Stealing teen hearts as Zack Morris on Saved By The Bell, and continuing to be known as Zack Morris because his name is so hard to remember.
Characteristics: Charming, cocky, girl-crazy, very proud of his stupidly large cell phone.
New role: One half of a lawyer duo who refuses to play by "the rules" (TNT's Franklin and Bash).
New Characteristics: Charming, cocky, girl-crazy, thankfully has a very normal-sized cell phone.
1. James Van Der Beek
Known for: Crying incessantly on Dawson's Creek, abnormally large forehead, having little ability to translate Dawson fame to future career.
Characteristics: Whiny, sad, artistic (but overly confident about it), whiny, sad, whiny, SAD.
New role: A hyper-stylized, dickish version of himself (ABC's Apartment 23) .
New characteristics: Snarky, funny, not completely deplorable and not the reason I'll stop watching after Pacey and Joey break up.