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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And the Comic-Con news just keeps on coming!
Vampires, werewolves, geeks, serial killers, secret agents and more are set to dazzle fans at the 2013 Comic-Con in San Diego. Warner Bros. has just unveiled their lineup, and it's looking like 17 of their fan-favorite series will be in attendance. Take a look at the full lineup below to find out when stars from The Vampire Diaries, Arrow, The Big Bang Theory, and more will be taking the stage.
Wendesday, July 17:– Pilot screenings of Almost Human, The Tomorrow People, and The 100, as well as a special presentation of The Originals featuring never-before-seen footage.
Thursday, July 18:- MAD: Producers Kevin Shinick and Mark Marek.
Friday, July 19:- Almost Human: Stars Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, and executive producer J.H. Wyman. - The Big Bang Theory: Executive producers Steven Molaro and Bill Prady and the writers- Childrens Hospital: Creator/star Rob Corddry and executive producers David Wain and Jonathan Stern join cast members Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Ken Marino and Rob Huebel. - The Following: Kevin Bacon, Shawn Ashmore, and Valorie Curry join executive producers Kevin Williamson and Marcos Siega. - Nikita: Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca, Aaron Stanford, Melinda Clarke, Devon Sawa, and Noah Bean join executive producer Craig Silverstein. - The 100: Series stars Eliza Taylor, Thomas McDonell, Marie Avgeropoulos, and Henry Ian Cusick join executive producers Matthew Miller and Jason Rothenberg. - The Paranormal and Extraterrestrial Squad: Producers Milo Ventimiglia and Russ Cundiff and creators/stars John Dale and Michael Hobert.
Saturday, July 20:- Arrow: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards and Colton Haynes joining executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg. - The Originals: Joseph Morgan, Claire Holt, Phoebe Tonkin, and Charles Michael Davis join executive producer Julie Plec. - Person of Interest: Executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman join members of the cast for their third visit to Comic-Con. - Revolution: Series stars and creator/executive producer Eric Kripke. - The Tomorrow People: Series stars Robbie Amell, Mark Pellegrino, and Peyton List with executive producers Greg Berlanti, Phil Klemmer and Danny Cannon. - The Vampire Diaries: Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Kat Graham and Candice Accola join executive producers Julie Plec and Caroline Dries.
Sunday, July 21:- Supernatural: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, and Mark A. Sheppard with executive producers Jeremy Carver and Robert Singer. - Beware the Batman: Producers Glen Murakami and Mitch Watson. - Teen Titans Go!: Producer Aaron Horvath joins members of the voice cast, including Greg Cipes and Scott Menville.
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Every week, Hollywood gives us something to whine about, and the week of May 6 was no different. We could make a drinking game out of this week, but that would be too dangerous. Instead, we'll stick to the usual formula: varying levels of alcoholic respite depending on how bothersome the week's issues are. Is your biggest complaint this week a flimsy one? How about a light cocktail to take the edge off? Got a real bone to pick with a celeb or entertainment entity this week? Go ahead, grab a drink that'll put hair on your chest. Here are the week's entertainment stories that are forcing us to seek a bubbly or boozy refuge. And maybe an idea or two about how you should wash them down.
Lighten Up With a Mint Julep
Randy Jackson is leaving American Idol, further cementing the show's descent into pop culture past.
We actually love Anne Hathaway's loud blonde 'do. She stepped out with her new locks at the Met Gala on Monday.
We're jealous we didn't come up with this Ryan Gosling Meme. But we're pretty proud of finding it.
Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend is hotter than we are, at least according to the Maxim Hot 100.
We have mixed feelings about the public's reaction to Charles Ramsey. Especially this auto-tune of his heroic interview:
Wash This Week Down With a Gin Gimlet
Amanda Bynes is following in Lindsey Lohan's footsteps again. This time, by getting out of her deserved punishments.
The Great Gatsby movie is missing some very important scenes from the book. And it would have been so much better if it wasn't.
Twitter doesn't seem to think much of Elisha Cuthbert. They deemed her expression at her boyfriend's hockey game a b***h face. We beg to differ.
The sexiest vampire couple ever, Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder of The Vampire Diaries (sorry, Robsten) has broken up. Perhaps Somerhalder has moved on to his true love: Grumpy cat.
Hit the Harder Stuff With a Bourbon Highball
Abercrombie & Fitch doesn't want fat customers. Or says the CEO, in a recently revealed (and reviled) statement.
Charlie Brown goes to rehab. Or, the voice actor who played Charlie Brown goes to rehab, but it still hurts, right in the childhood memories.
We lost too many wonderful Hollywood faces this week, like Bryan Forbes, Jeanne Cooper, Ottavio Missoni, and of course, film legend Ray Harryhausen.
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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.
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 time we meet José (Eduardo Verástegui) the up-and-coming soccer star is boasting to a bunch of kids about the big-time contract he's just signed. The next thing you know he's slaving away as the chef at his ungrateful brother's upscale restaurant. How did he go from riches to rags so quickly? Bella takes its sweet time fully revealing the circumstances leading up to José's fall from grace though you can pretty much deduce for yourself what he did just by the way his eyes tear up whenever he gazes at a child playing on the street. For some unfathomable reason José abandons his post to comfort Nina (Tammy Blanchard) a waitress who's just been fired for her tardy ways. Turns out Nina's pregnant and has her mind set on having an abortion. Rather than butt out of Nina's business and go back to work José takes it upon himself to gently persuade Nina to have the baby. Clearly José's seeking a little redemption for his own past transgressions and what better way to achieve this than by making Nina see the error of her ways. Nina's willing to play along especially when José lands her a new job without any effort. Thus begins Bella's leisurely-though quite uneventful-stroll around New York City. The decision Nina makes won't come as a surprise but Bella's epilogue will likely leave you shaking your head in disbelief. It's pretty clear why the distraught Nina would happily spend the day hanging out with a handsome co-worker she barely knows. The soft-spoken Eduardo Verástegui—the Mexican model pop singer and actor who starred as the three-timing himbo in Chasing Papi—exudes an easy charm that would make any woman feel safe and comfortable in his presence. José obviously has an agenda—one born of guilt not religious zealotry—but Verástegui's casual demeanor ensures that the chef never comes across as pushy anxious or judgmental. But every now and then Verástegui allows us a glimpse at the terrible pain and suffering that's reduced José to a shadow of the man he once was. Tammy Blanchard who develops a nice rapport with Verástegui brings a necessary sense of fear and confusion to the role of Nina. That said Blanchard also makes Nina seem particularly strong willed so you never really think that José's soft sell would be enough to make this unemployed waitress change her mind about being a single mother or putting her child up for adoption. As José's unsympathetic brother Manny Perez does his best impression of Gordon Ramsey on a bad day. Perez never quite gets the comeuppance he deserves though he does share a nice moment with Verástegui at the end of Bella that shows that some brotherly bonds are hard to break. Oh and supermodel Ali Landry puts in an appearance during a couple of Bella's many flashbacks for no other reason than she's married to the director. José is a man on a mission. But is director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde? Bella does not appear to be a film overtly driven by faith and the politics of abortion do not serve as a motivating factor for José's decision to persuade Nina to keep her baby. So it is unclear whether Monteverde's using Bella to subtly advance an anti-abortion agenda or to implore women to think long and hard before making their decision to terminate their pregnancy. Either way it's not hard to imagine activists on either side of the abortion issue co-opting Bella for their own purposes. After all it’s Nina who makes the choice admittedly with a bit of prodding from José. Unfortunately Bellas biggest problem is that you never truly feel that José's accomplished what he set out to do even though the outcome is never in doubt so the big reveal at the end doesn't ring true. In other words Bella's just too sunny to end on a pessimistic note. Perhaps Monteverde intended to leave the door open for a sequel one that has romance on its mind. But Monteverde leaves too many gaps left unfilled for us to accept that this is the decision Nina would make no matter how much she is touched by the kindness of a relative stranger.