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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Author Stephanie Meyer unleashed a phenomenon with her Twilight novels a teen vampire romance that has spurned a teen cult following. The good news is the movie is surprisingly just as potent -- a spellbinding terribly romantic hypnotic and entertaining film. At its heart are the elements that make any teen drama work; in this case it’s forbidden love. It starts with 16 year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who relocates from her sunny Phoenix to the cold gray foreboding atmosphere of Forks Washington to live with her father. At her new high school she meets the incredibly attractive but mysterious Cullen clan including the allusive Edward (Robert Pattinson) who immediately intrigues her. What she doesn’t know yet is that Edward and his “family” are a group of vegetarian vampires who drink only animal blood and must live in the terminally cloudy region of Northwest. Edward tries to drive a determined Bella away by revealing his true identity but soon realizes she is the girl of his dreams. But as the two begin their complicated romance things get dicey when another group of um meat-lovin’ vampires target Bella. Teen Beat should clear their covers for a new group of stars sure to become huge with the female teen set -- and probably their mothers as well. Exuding a brooding reserve and air of mystery the follicley-endowed Robert Pattinson is reminiscent of James Dean and completely believable as a conflicted bloodsucker who becomes dangerously attracted to a mere mortal. His Edward’s unpredictable nature becomes irresistible for the attractive Kristen Stewart’s Bella as she grows closer to him despite his attempts to keep her at arm’s length. Not since Baby yearned for Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing has there been such an effective pairing for the acne-challenged set. Pattinson and Stewart simmer with teen angst and desire and could be the next big thing -- especially if there are more Twilight sequels to follow. The Cullen clan led by foster parents Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser is perfectly cast with a good looking bunch of vampiric thesps including newcomers Ashley Green Kellan Lutz Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed. Red-headed Rachelle LeFevre as bad vamp Victoria is ideal along with Cam Gigandet and Edi Gathegi as the guys in her group of nomadic vampires. Director Catherine Hardwicke has certainly shown she understands the ever-changing moods of youth with her previous efforts (Thirteen Lords of Dogtown). But those flicks were just warm-ups for what she taps into with Twilight. She creates a wonderful creepy kind of muted dark and cloudy society with imposing camera angles and aching teen lust from her bright red-lipped hormonally charged leads. And thankfully she leaves the fangs on the cutting room floor. These vampires are actually relatable and Hardwick takes what could have been an awful juvenile programmer and lifts it into a different league creating not only a movie that should cross over beyond it’s target demo but one that makes us genuinely excited for the inevitable sequels.
Go ahead and throw logic out the window on this one folks. A mysterious Tibetan monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has spent a lifetime protecting an ancient document known as the Scroll of the Ultimate--a parchment that will yield unlimited power to anyone who reads it. After running around the globe for 60 years the Monk knows it's time to hang up his robes and find a new guardian but spotting a successor isn't easy in the hustle bustle of the 21st century where Tibetan traditions and rituals are almost non-existent. Maybe the next protector should be the crafty rebellious pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott) who learned martial arts from watching kung-fu movies; after all Kar helps the Monk escape from the scroll's most avid pursuer Strucker (Karel Roden) a sadistic old Nazi who wants to use the its power to rid the planet of inferior races. Or maybe the Monk's successor is the elusive but beautiful bad girl Jade (James King) whose skills are numerous and who seems to pop up to help Kar whenever he gets in a jam. Whomever the Monk eventually chooses they must first unite to battle the ultimate enemy--and keep the scroll safe.
If it weren't for Yun-Fat Bulletproof Monk would be pretty hopeless. The charismatic actor finds a nice balance no matter what he does and in this case he resists the obvious temptation to play the Monk as a fish out of water in the big city. Since he's long been one of Chinese cinema's most well-known action heroes he's definitely in his element in Monk standing on top of a car with guns blazing and the Zen master persona he discovered in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon serves him well here too. The script requires him to spout off fortune-cookie mumbo jumbo but he manages to do it without sounding ridiculous. The petite King actually holds her own as the brawny-yet-brainy tough chick but the wisecracking Scott is completely out of his element for the first time in his career. He handles the little comedic tidbits well but in no way is it possible to believe that the "Dude" who couldn't find his car and the jackass who drank someone else's bodily fluids in American Pie can be a martial arts hero who saves the planet. It just isn't going to happen.
Bulletproof Monk relies on the ghosts of movies past including Crouching Tiger and the 1986 Eddie Murphy stinker The Golden Child for its plot which results in a film that's chock full of cliches especially the evil Nazi who has spent 60 years chasing after the scroll using his tow-headed granddaughter whose cover is an organization for human rights to do the dirty work. A few bright moments with Yun-Fat coupled with director Paul Hunter's good use of fast-paced martial arts action make the rest of this unimaginative movie somewhat palatable--even novices Williams and King look good doing the moves--but all in all Bulletproof Monk is shooting blanks.
Clint Eastwood and Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland will team up on an adaptation of the best-selling novel, Mystic River, for Warner Bros.
The novel, now in its ninth week on the top 10 New York Times bestseller list, follows three childhood friends whose relationship breaks apart after a tragic incident. They are brought back together 25 years later when they are all linked to a murder investigation.
Eastwood and Helgeland also are collaborating on another Warner Bros. project, the mystery/thriller Blood Work, an adaptation of a novel by Michael Connelly. Eastwood is set to produce, star and direct from Helgeland's screenplay.
Academy Award-winning scribe Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) wrote and directed the upcoming A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger. Eastwood directed last year's hit Space Cowboys.
Tatum O'Neal is a "Scoundrel"
Making a comeback after more than a 10-year absence, Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon) will star opposite Tim Curry (Charlie's Angels), Julian Sands and Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) in The Scoundrel's Wife, an independent project.
Set in Louisiana in 1942, a young widow (O'Neal) is suspected of helping the Germans in a small bayou town, after the German U-boats have sunk American ships.
O'Neal, divorced from ex-husband John McEnroe, returns after spending the last decade raising their children.
Hoop dreams for Lil' Bow Wow
Fourteen-year-old double platinum rap singer Lil' Bow Wow will get his feature film debut in Like Mike for 20th Century Fox.
Lil' Bow Wow will play a kid who finds a pair of magical sneakers worn by basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Suddenly, the teen is transformed into a NBA hero.
Written by Michael Elliot, the story was inspired by Lil' Bow Wow, whom Elliot met on the set of MTV's seriesHip Hopera.
"He loves basketball, loves Michael Jordan, and he's an exceptional basketball player" Elliot told Variety.
"It's every kid's dream to play in the NBA, and it's not like Big, where he becomes a man. In this case, it's more fun if he stays a kid."
Lowe gets "Framed"
Rob Lowe, hot off his acclaimed role as deputy communications director in the hit NBC drama series The West Wing, will star in the TNT original movie Framed, based on a BBC miniseries of the same name.
Lowe will play a New York detective who takes a key member of a money-laundering scheme into custody and prepares him to testify in court. Things gets complicated as the detective's strong ethical code is placed in jeopardy when the witness offers him millions of dollars to help him escape.
The film will be directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. (Toy Soldiers) and executive produced by David Brown (Along Came a Spider) and Kit Golden (Chocolat).
Foley is a "Fuddy" Duddy
NewsRadio star Dave Foley has signed to star in Fox's comedy pilot, What's Up, Peter Fuddy?, with David Steinberg set to direct and co-written by Emmy winner Jay Kogen (Frasier).
The show's premise is Truman Show-esque: a Nightline-style news show follows the daily activities of an insurance adjuster Fuddy (Foley), who is forced to appear on the show to defend his actions.
Foley re-teams with Steinberg and Kogen after working together on the comedy The Wrong Guy. The feature was never released but it won the best screenplay award at the 1999 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The pilot also stars Jamie Denbo (Lost Souls), as Fuddy's wife, and Craig Anton (The Army Show), as Fuddy's next-door neighbor.
"MiB2"'s villainous Janssen
The X-Men's heroine Famke Janssen is in negotiations to play the villainous vamp in Columbia Pictures' Men In Black 2 for director Barry Sonnenfeld.
Production is scheduled to start in June. Although the plot is under wraps, most of the original film's stars will be in the sequel, including Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as agents J and K, respectively. Janssen will play bad bombshell Serleena and Johnny Knoxville (MTV's Jackass) will be featured as a two-headed alien. The cast also includes Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats) as Smith's love interest.
"Annie" and Reba: together again
Country superstar Reba McEntire will reprise her role as Annie Oakley in a CBS-TV movie version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun.
Currently starring in the Broadway smash hit, McEntire is a perfect choice to play Annie for the CBS movie, producer Howard Braunstein told Variety. She also will executive produce the film.
Currently in development, the movie could air by the February sweeps, depending on the potential strikes. McEntire will continue with the Broadway production through May 27. She's concurrently starring in an untitled comedy pilot for the WB Network.
"Crouching Tiger" creates Chinese boom
Hot off the tremendous success of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, co-production partner Columbia Pictures Film Production (an offshoot of Sony Pictures Entertainment) has announced plans for four pictures to go into production in 2001.
First up is Big Shot's Funeral, a comical film about a world-famous director who comes to China to make an epic about the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (can anyone say The Last Emperor?). It will star Donald Sutherland, Ge You and Rosamund Kwan and directed by Feng Xiaogang. It will be shot in English and Chinese.
Next is another Chinese/English film, a mystery, called Double Vision starring Tony Leung, Ka Fai and David Morse (The Green Mile). The film followed the hunt for a serial killer by a determined Taiwanese police detective and an American FBI expert.
Third is an untitled action flick directed by Corey Yuen, who choreographed The X-Men and Romeo Must Die. The film will kicked it up with technological wizardry while centering on family bonds. Finally, set for production later this year is Heroes of Heaven and Earth, a Chinese-language adventure epic to be directed by He Ping and starring Jiang Wen.
Miramax wants in the "Know"
Miramax Films is negotiating to handle the North American distributions rights for Al Pacino's next film, People I Know.
The film, already in production and co-starring Kim Basinger, Tea Leoni and Ryan O'Neal, is about a New York press agent who gets into the corrupt world of politics, celebrity and illegal drugs. O'Neal plays a client, a famous actor, who is embroiled in a scandal that hurts his plans to become a senator.
Pesci as The Bull
Mafia hitman Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, to be exact.
Oscar-winner Joe Pesci is in negotiations to play the mobster for New Regency Productions. Gravano left the federal witness protection plan to go into partnership with a band of wealthy suburban kids selling ecstasy.
The film, tentatively titled Sammy the Bull, will only have Pesci's involvement if it is released as a feature film. Originally, New Regency was developing the project as a television movie.
"Bridget Jones" part II
Working Title Films, producer of the recent box office hit Bridget Jones's Diary, is already considering a sequel.
Based on Helen Fielding popular novel series, Working Title has optioned her second book Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and is negotiating with her for the screenplay.
The producers of other hits, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, have never previously made a sequel, "but when you get numbers like this, you've got to think about it," Working Title co-chairman Eric Fellner told Variety.
It is still undetermined whether Renee Zellweger will reprise her role, as well as Hugh Grant, whose smarmy character is not in the second novel.