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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
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.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Tragedy, in the form of a slipped dumbbell, has befallen the flesh of Anna Nicole Smith.
"Entertainment Tonight" reported Wednesday night that the buxom widow, who became $450 million richer after winning a piece of her late 90-year-old husband J. Howard Marshall's $1.6 billion estate, had dropped a dumbbell on her arm during a workout Tuesday, causing hospitalizable injuries.
Smith, 32, was admitted to a Houston hospital. No word yet if the wealthy heiress had also broken a nail.
Anna Nicole's numerous attributes include being 1993's Playboy Playmate of the Year and the wife of the really old billionaire Marshall, whom she met at a Houston strip club back in 1991, married in 1994 and survived in 1995.
Looks like the on-again, off-again "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is finally ready to get it on.
Daily Variety reports that Johnny Depp is in final talks to star in the project, which is a biopic based on the autobiography of Chuck Barris, aka "The Gong Show" host, who says that he also worked for the CIA.
Adding more weight to the offbeat film would be George Clooney, who might join Depp in a co-starring role as a CIA recruiting agent.
The project will be directed by "X-Men's" Bryant Singer and is written by "Being John Malkovich" scribe Charlie Kaufman.
GETTING THE 'JOB' DONE: Kevin Costner will reunite with "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup" helmer Ron Shelton in the action thriller "Two Guys on the Job," Variety says.
The story is about two San Francisco cops who begin as partners but eventually become bitter enemies.
Costner will play one of the cops, and another 40ish actor will soon be cast for the other part.
GOING RINGSIDE: The "Ali" biopic cast keeps on growing and growing and growing. The latest to get enlisted to the Michael Mann project is Jon Voight, who'll play the late boxing commentator Howard Cosell. The actor will join a group of talents that includes Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Mykelti Williamson and Ron Silver.
G MONEY: "Charlie's Angels" helmer McG is developing a new action flick called "Airshow," which follows two elite fighter pilots from the Persian Gulf War, Variety says.
Also in the works for McG, aka Joseph McGinty Nichol, will be the "Charlie's Angels" sequel and the military thriller "Dreadnaught."
'The Grinch' is unstoppable.
Jim Carrey's "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" edged out Chris O'Donnell's mountain-climbing "Vertical Limit" and held on to the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office, taking in an estimated $18.46 million, according to estimates obtained by Hollywood.com's box office analyst Martin Grove.
"The Grinch," directed by Ron Howard and also starring Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon and Jeffery Tambor, reached a four-week total gross of $195.5 million.
Bowed Friday, outdoor thriller "Vertical Limit" was only good enough for the No. 2 spot with a $16 million take.
The week's other new releases: Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe's "Proof of Life" and the game adaptation "Dungeons and Dragons" opened this weekend at No. 3 ($10.41 million) and No. 5 ($7 million), respectively.
And M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" took the No. 4 spot with $7.5 million. The Bruce Willis-Samuel L Jackson starrer has thus far grossed $77.4 million.
Here are the weekend's Top 10 films (final figures will be released Monday):
1. "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," $18.47 million ($195.5 million total)
2. "Vertical Limit," $16 million (new)
3. "Proof of Life," $10.41 million (new)
4. "Unbreakable," $7.54 million ($77.4 million total)
5. "Dungeons and Dragons," $7 million (new)
6. "102 Dalmatians," $6.3 million ($44.3 million total)
7. "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie," $4 million ($60.5 million total)
8. "Meet the Parents," $2.97 million ($157.1 million total)
9. "Charlie's Angels," $2.7 million ($119.3 million total)
10. "Bounce," $2.6 million ($34.1 million total)
Just when you thought Steven Spielberg has picked up every single award there is, the "Saving Private Ryan" and "Jurassic Park" mega-helmer has been named the world's most bankable movie director in a survey of industry execs.
The poll was conducted by the trade mag The Hollywood Reporter. It asked industry top dogs to rank directors and directing teams around the world based on their marketability, bankability and clout.
After top dog Spielberg is "Titanic" titan James Cameron (No. 2), followed by "Star Wars" guy George Lucas (No. 3), erstwhile "Happy Days" geek Ron Howard (No. 4) and the upcoming "Planet of the Apes" helmer Tim Burton (No. 5).
Actress-director Jodie Foster, at No. 51, was the highest-ranking woman. And Spike Lee was the highest-ranked black director at No. 76 among the 800 directors named.
And in case you're wondering who topped the list last year, well, it was also Spielberg.
Here's the survey's Top 10:
1) Steven Spielberg
2) James Cameron
3) George Lucas
4) Ron Howard
5) Tim Burton
6) Martin Scorsese
7) John Woo
8) Ridley Scott
9) Robert Zemeckis
10) Michael Bay
After looting the box office this summer with "Gladiator," helmer Ridley Scott is about to do the same thing on the high seas.
Daily Variety is reporting that the lauded director will direct Disney's "Captain Kidd," an adventure tale based on the life of the notorious 17th century pirate.
The project will be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and will be written by "Double Jeopardy" scribes Doug Cook and David Weisberg.
Scott has just finished wrapping "Hannibal," the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," and will immediately segue into the big-budget flick "Black Hawk Down."
A SOUND 'MIND:' Ed Harris knows what's hot. Variety says that the actor has aligned himself with red hot director Ron Howard and red hot actor Russell Crowe in the project "A Beautiful Mind."
In the true story, "Gladiator" Crowe will play John Nash, a paranoid-schizophrenic and Nobel Prize winner. Harris will co-star as an intelligence officer in the film.
Howard, of course, just came off helming a little holiday film called "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with Jim Carrey.
ANOTHER GENERATION: "Star Trek" fans can rejoice. Variety says that "Gladiator" scribe John Logan has been tapped to write the next "Star Trek" flick in the sci-fi franchise. The project will be No. 10 for the big-screen series.
No director has been named yet, but veteran Trekkies Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are set to return.
Never underestimate the seriousness of a dumbbell injury.
According to Reuters, the arm injury sustained by Anna Nicole Smith two weeks ago from a slipped barbell could force a mistrial in the 32-year-old blonde bombshell's fortune-seeking lawsuit for a piece of her late husband J. Howard Marshall's estate.
Doctors from both sides in the case examined Smith on Tuesday and will testify today in a hearing to determine if the trail, now in its fourth week, should go forward or be reset for a later date.
Smith had been out of court to better nurse her ailing arm in a local hospital. According to the report, Smith's attorney is asking the presiding judge to consider a mistrial because of his client's prolonged absence.
If a mistrial is granted, a new trial with a new jury would be set.
FRANKIE, ANNETTE & MACY'S: The Associated Press reports that surf granddaddy and grandmommy Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are suing the department chain Macy's for using their photos in a brochure without their permission. Avalon and Funicello want their photos removed and are seeking $250,000 each in damage.
TEACHER'S PET: "American Beauty" mom Annette Bening testified in a Phoenix court Monday on behalf of her former acting teacher Jared Sakren, who says that he was wrongfully dismissed from Arizona State University for teaching too much Shakespeare, AP says. During her testimony, Bening said that she sees the issue as Sakren's right to teach as he saw fit.