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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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After nine long years of true love, heartbreak, death, drama, and a little bit of basketball, the residents of One Tree Hill will say their final goodbyes on tonight's two-hour series finale. You know what we're talking about: The much-beloved show that started out as your typical jock- and cheerleader-infested teen fare, and eventually grew into a heartfelt drama with well-rounded characters, and, well, a lot less basketball.
Tonight, your favorite characters will bid farewell after a season filled with some zany, topsy-turvy ups and downs. Nathan is happily back in Haley's arms after a horrifying kidnapping scare with some ne'er do well Russians, but he lost his morally ambivalent father, Dan Scott, in the process. It was a devastating debacle, but Dan's death seemed to provide some closure for Haley and Nathan, as well as the tortured Dan himself.
Fan-favorite Brooke recently dealt with two very different horrors: First, she was attacked and almost killed by the psychotic Xavier. She put him back in jail, but then had to deal with the unforgettable image of seeing her father, Ted, (Played by Richard Burgi -- is that guy ever up to any good?) having some midday sex with his estranged wife (and Brooke's mother) Victoria. Thankfully, all was well when her historically shady parents decided to join their daughter as co-owners of her newest clothing line, Baker Man.
Brooke's ridiculously sexy and seemingly perfect husband, Julian, has also had some career success -- his television series, based on Tree Hill itself, was approved during last week's episode. It's a safe bet that some emotional Tree Hill scenes will be shot during One Tree Hill tonight. (How meta!)
But the sloppiest tears are likely to be shed during the scenes involving Clay, Quinn, and his formerly estranged son, Logan. Clay recently re-entered Logan's life after years of absence, and everything came together when Quinn was finally able to bond with her boyfriend's son from his former marriage. The lovebirds became engaged at the end of last week's episode, with Logan giving up his "power ring" to serve as a makeshift diamond. Tonight's episode may or may not include their wedding, but expect to see this couple in the middle of all the action.
What do you want to see in tonight's finale? Scenes of Chase happily running his new bar? Mouth kicking ass at sports? A basketball? Let us know in the comments!
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Even though it may have kept younger viewers away with its "the struggles of parenting" premise, Up All Night has proven each week to be a full-fledged tour de force of comedy. The series has some of Saturday Night Live's great strengths going for it, such as the behind-the-scenes brilliance of Lorne Michaels and the comic prowess of Maya Rudolph. And now, an SNL icon is about to make a guest appearance. Molly Shannon will pay a visit to Chris and Reagan (Will Arnett and Christina Applegate) on a November episode of Up All Night. Shannon will play a producer of Ava's (Rudolph) talk show who is not entirely cut out for the demanding position. As far as I'm concerned, any appearance by Shannon, on any show (especially one with a comedic sensibility so suited for her) is a win. Up All Night airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. -Vulture
Doctor Who might very well be calling in its twelfth man to star. Although nothing is confirmed yet, fans of the show are frantic to hear that Matt Smith, who has played the Doctor since 2010 may be done after next season. Although Smith, the eleventh man to play the character, has embodied the role for just under a year, fans have responded positively to his performance and would likely be sad to see him ago. Smith's interest in leaving the series stems from his desire to pursue film and television work in America. -VH1
One Tree Hill fans might have been remiss to learn about the diminished screen time of central character Nathan Scott, played by James Lafferty, in the ninth and final season. Although Lafferty signed on only for a part-time role, the actor will definitely be back for the most important episode: the series finale. While his absence throughout the season might feel a bit awkward, at least we'll be able to round things all out with an ending the series deserves. Also returning this season will be former star Chad Michael Murray, Tyler Hilton, Paul Johansson, and Barbara Alyn Woods. One Tree Hill will return to the CW in 2012. -TVLine
All-American family man Nick Hume (Bacon) is transformed into a man of violence and retribution when gang members murder his oldest son (Stuart Lafferty). Rather than allow the law to take its course Nick takes matters into his own hands and exacts revenge upon the punk (an unrecognizable Matt O'Leary). This serves only to instigate an escalating war between Nick and the other gang members led by the sadistic Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund)--a war in which the casualties are many and nothing is regained. The film is adapted very loosely from Brian Garfield’s novel of the same name--which was a sequel to Garfield’s earlier best-seller which became the basis for the aforementioned Death Wish some 33 years ago. Like the original Death Wish this is pure audience manipulation--and a great deal of it works. There are a few lapses in credibility: The police (of course) are never around when you need them and they appear hardly concerned when two of their own are butchered.
Not surprisingly Bacon’s approach to the role differs from that of Charles Bronson’s in the Death Wish films. The character expects to find satisfaction in vengeance but it only serves to further endanger his surviving family members and wither his soul. He’s an Everyman who’s gone too far and now there’s no looking back. His quest for revenge effectively destroys his humanity. Kelly Preston Jordan Garrett and Lafferty give warm performances as the ill-fated Hume family making the tragedies that befall them that much more affecting. Hedlund is suitably loathsome as the principal heavy while a never-grubbier John Goodman shows up in an extended cameo (three scenes) as a crime broker who won’t let family ties get in the way of making money. Aisha Tyler plays the cop on the case whose repeated warnings to Nick go unheeded. If they had been there wouldn’t be much of a movie! James Wan who made a name for himself with the Saw films brings his stylized approach to the consistent mayhem found in Death Sentence. Particularly effective is an intense chase sequence in which Nick is pursued on foot by the gang. The action is sometimes exhilarating to watch as screen violence can (and should) be but it’s not taken lightly. When people are shot or stabbed it hurts. Unlike the myriad Death Wish sequels and knock-offs the point is emphasized here that violence begets violence and that vigilante justice causes as many if not more problems than it solves. This message however does not detract from the visceral thrills that the film provides throughout. There’s also an underlying sadness to the proceedings. In the end no good--and a lot of suffering--will come of the characters’ actions. Death Sentence is fundamentally a piece of entertainment and a well-made one at that but the underlying message is there.