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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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
The Killing has been a veritable thorn in many a television fans’ sides since it first aired in April 2011. While it came out of the gate as a fast-paced, thoughtful, stylized thriller, it soon descended into a drawn out Law and Order episode, with its infamous red herrings thrown in to extend the mystery. It started to feel like we were on a mystery treadmill. Just a few more miles and then we’ll finally find the answer. Well, the workout is finally over. We’ve finally learned who killed Rosie Larsen.
It was the teen’s free-wheeling aunt, Terry Marek, who killed the young woman. But there’s a catch: She didn’t know the girl she’d killed was Rosie. Terry was wrapped up with property developer Michael Ames, who Rosie witnessed conspiring with Darren Richmond’s campaign manager Jamie Wright and Casino manager Nicole Jackson to help Richmond win his mayoral bid.
Wright’s been our main suspect for the past few episodes, and in truth, he did most of the brutal work. Wright noticed Rosie when she witnessed the elicit meeting and his confrontation bore a fight. Rosie hit her head, Wright threw her in the car, and took her into the woods where he chased her and beat her before finally placing her in the trunk that would send her to her doom. But Wright wasn’t the one who actually sealed the young girl’s fate.
While Wright and Ames were arguing and Wright lamented his inability to kill the teenager, Marek was waiting in her car for Ames. She hopped out and quickly drove the car, with an audibly screaming Rosie in the trunk, into the water, only to find out that she had just killed her niece.
So, after traipsing through a suspect list longer than the New York Knicks roster, are we satisfied with the horse the AMC series ultimately settled on? In truth, the murder lies on all three horses – Ames, Wright, and Marek. Terry was simply the one to actually pull the metaphorical trigger. All three were aiming to cut the young woman’s life short. With this conclusion, we feel justified for suspecting some political intrigue all season and for suspecting the realistic conclusion (as we’ve learned from watching an unhealthy amount of Law and Order) that the killer is usually someone close to the victim. It also served as the final emotional explosion for a family that’s spent two years grieving the loss of their young daughter. No matter how frustrated viewers might be with the plodding pace and erroneous leads throughout the series' two seasons, it’s impossible to deny the power of watching Michelle Forbes (who plays Mitch, Rosie’s mother) in the penultimate scene in which she finds out that her baby sister has committed this ultimate betrayal.
Were you satisfied with the outcome? Or was it frustrating to spend so many seasons on other suspects only to have a ringer thrown in at the end? Sound off in the comments!
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Top Story: Fuqua Accused of Threatening Former Girlfriend
Director Antoine Fuqua has been accused in a lawsuit of threatening the life of an ex-girlfriend and making false charges to authorities to hide their affair from his wife, actress Lela Rochon, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the suit, Tanya Evans ended the affair in March 2002 as Fuqua began shooting Tears of the Sun in Hawaii. Two months later, Fuqua had Evans arrested for stalking, but most of the charges against her were dropped for lack of evidence. In November, Evans stood trial on one count of making harassing phone calls, but was acquitted.
Nolte on the Wagon
Looking trim and tan, actor Nick Nolte, who was arrested in September for driving under the influence, says he has been careful about remaining sober. "There's no hiding there. I've always said I had a substance problem ever since. It's something you deal with, and you take care of it, and you can keep it under control," Nolte told The Associated Press. Nolte made the remarks during interviews to promote his upcoming drama The Good Thief, about a heroin-addicted gambler trying to organize a heist.
Cher's Wig Safe and Sound
Police in Richmond, Va., have recovered Cher's stolen black-and-teal wig. According to the AP, a woman walked into one of the city police precincts and turned in the hairpiece that was reported stolen from Cher's concert tour. The surrender came Tuesday night after a city police employee overheard a man bragging in nearby that he had the wig. The man later told a detective that he had given it to an unknown woman outside the Richmond Coliseum after the Feb. 25 concert. Police are holding the wig--valued at between $8,000 and $10,000--as evidence.
"Two Towers" Sweeps Saturn Award Noms
The 28th annual Saturn Awards nominations were announced Friday by Cinescape magazine and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Scorpion King, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Reign of Fire, The Santa Clause 2 and Spider-Man are competing in the fantasy category while Minority Report squares off against Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Signs, Solaris and Star Trek: Nemesis in the sci-fi category. The nominees for best horror film include Blade II, Eight Legged Freaks, Frailty, Queen of the Damned, Resident Evil and The Ring.
Blair Talks with MTV Audience
Prime Minister Tony Blair took the debate on Iraq Thursday to a studio audience for MTV Europe. In the 60-minute forum, titled "Is War the Answer," Blair was grilled by young adults from around the world, including Iraq, the United States and England. The encounter won praise from some members of the audience, but most were not impressed. The discussion is due to air in Britain on Friday before it is broadcast in Europe, Australia, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and eventually the United States on Monday.
Role Call, Part I: John Cusack Cast in "Stepford Wives"
The Hollywood Reporter reports: John Cusack is in negotiations to star opposite Nicole Kidman in Paramount Pictures' The Stepford Wives for director Frank Oz. Cusack's sister Joan also stars in the project, a remake of the 1975 thriller about a woman who moves into a neighborhood where husbands have transformed their wives into robots. The project will begin shooting in June.
Role Call, Part II: Eddie Griffin Joins "Scary Movie 3," Zach Braff's "Large's Ark"
Variety reports: Eddie Griffin is the latest star to join Dimension's spoof sequel Scary Movie 3, with Charlie Sheen, Denise Richards, Jeremy Piven, Simon Rex, Anthony Anderson and Regina Hall. The film is scheduled to shoot later this month in Vancouver...Scrubs star Zach Braff will start shooting his feature directorial debut Large's Ark on April 23. Braff wrote the script and will star alongside Natalie Portman and Ian Holm. The film revolves around a young man who returns home for his mom's funeral after being estranged from his family for a decade.