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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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The 53rd Annual Emmy Awards will take place Sunday in Los Angeles under heavy security. According to Reuters, organizers have worked with the Federal Aviation Administration, FBI and local police to close the airspace around the Shubert Theater. All guests will also be asked to go through a metal detector.
A Los Angeles judge has ordered Tom Cruise to pay $27,900 in legal fees to Kristina Ann Kristin for frivolously including her in a $100 million defamation suite against her ex-husband, Chad Slater, People.com reports. Kristin had talked to the National Enquirer about Slater's claim that he had an affair with the actor.
The heirs of Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick are suing Turner Entertainment Co., claiming the company has not accounted honestly for profits. According to Variety, Selznick's heirs collectively own a 5 percent interest in the film.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned whether a 1996 law barring the distribution of pictures depicting a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct can be applied to movies in which older actors play sexually active children. According to Reuters, Justice Stephen Breyer named Traffic, Lolita, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Julietand Titanic as examples of films showing simulated sexual activity by a minor.
Gil Scott-Heron, the creator of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and Whitey's on the Moon received a one- to three-year sentence Monday after failing to show up at a Manhattan Criminal Court to begin mandatory rehab, PageSix.com reports. The rehabilitation was part of an earlier plea bargain on drug charges.
An archive showcasing the development of The Lord of the Rings is expected to fetch up to $50,000 at Christie's as part of a sale of 20th century books, Reuters reports. The archive includes proof copies, first editions and letters by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Liam Neeson has been cast to star as the young Father Merrin in an upcoming prequel to the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. According to Reuters, the project will be helmed by director John Frankenheimer (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and go into production in the spring of 2002.
A wizard's hat and three gold coins from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that went missing from the set during filming have shown up on an Internet auction site, Reuters reports. Police could not confirm newspaper reports that crew members were believed to be behind the thefts.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, VH1 is looking to create its own West Coast version of MTV's Total Request Live hosted by Carson Daly. The network is looking to convert a Hollywood complex into a studio for live daily music performances.
Napster is considering getting congressional help to resolve licensing issues. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Napster CEO Konrad Hilbers hopes congress will consider compulsory licensing of music for on-demand services.
Guess there's something to be said for that sun-burnt, leathery look. Clint Eastwood, onetime municipal politician, Oscar-winning director/producer and all-around movie tough guy, turns an inconspicuous 70 this very day, looking just as he did in his 60s and 50s.
Eastwood, whose iconic credits include 1971's "Dirty Harry," has faltered rarely at the box office since making it big with 1964's "A Fist Full of Dollars." Next up: Eastwood's upcoming space actioner, "Space Cowboys," due out Aug. 4, which teams the veteran actor with Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones as retired pilots in charge of saving the world.
But are Eastwood's days as a leading man numbered? After all, not even John Wayne made it as a 70-year-old movie star. (His last feature, 1976's "The Shootist," was released when he was 69.) Well, we brainstormed a list of other guys (and, sorry, this is a boys' club only) who have passed the septuagenarian bar and tried to carry a movie (or two) with them.
Sean Connery Sean Connery: Turning 70 this August, the ex-007 was last seen making Mrs. Michael Douglas swoon in "Entrapment" at age 69. At 70, he will be seen playing a reclusive novelist in Gus Van Sant's "Finding Forrester."
Paul Newman: The prolific 75-year-old can be currently seen as an escaped jewelry thief in "Where the Money Is." Before that, he was seen leading an ensemble cast including Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon in 1998's neo-noir "Twilight" at the age of 71. Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman: He may not be pretty, but he sure is cool (we think). Born January 1930, Hackman, has just reached our qualifying age. To celebrate, the character actor will be seen playing coach to football quarterback Keanu Reeves in "The Replacements" this year, and "Heartbreakers" and "Pearl Harbor" in 2001.
Marlon Brando: So what if he never really dropped the weight after "Apocalypse Now?" Since turning 70, the mumbling Brando has been in "Don Juan DeMarco" (1995), "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996), among others. Next year, the 77-year-old will be seen co-starring opposite Edward Norton and Robert De Niro in Frank Oz's "The Score." For Eastwood fans with cable, note that Turner Classic Movies will be showcasing four of the actor's films tonight starting at 8 p.m. (EDT).