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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American Idol is undergoing something of a spiritual cleansing. Thursday, judge Steven Tyler officially turned in his Coca-Cola chalice and renounced his seat as a judge on the Fox show one day before Jennifer Lopez confirmed her exit during Ryan Seacrest’s radio show. With both of the superstar judges packing up, fans and reporters alike are turning their attention to Randy Jackson, the only remaining judge from the original panel. Could Jackson take this mass exodus as his cue to exit the series? And more importantly, what will happen if Idol does undergo a full judging reboot? Well, as much as we’ve grown accustomed to our counterproductive threesome, the singing competition is likely looking at a very promising prospect: a clean slate.
And while that prospect isn’t very different from The X Factor’s Season 2 reboot or the once open tables at any of the various copycat singing series, Idol has two very significant factors on its side: history and brand power. Of the U.S. singing competitions in rotation at the moment, Idol has produced the most viable candidates for music industry success – the series has done so well, its Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson is a go-to music industry maven for not one, but two singing competitions (The Voice and Duets). Plus, it’s simply been around longer and survived handfuls of judging panel shakeups. If the last five years of the series have proved anything, it’s that all we really need to maintain that nostalgic Idol feeling is the signature theme song, the ridiculously cheesy editing gags, and Seacrest.
But even with that power and legacy, Idol’s ratings have diminished greatly from the height of its popularity. There are few different reasons that likely feed into the decrease (which has dropped from the mid-20 millions to numbers in the 14-18 million range – boo hoo, right?). First, the series’ success bred a legion of other musical competitions, so singing show fatigue and a plethora of other choices is a likely factor. Next, there are issues that are a little less tangible, like the quickly shrinking judging panel.
Randy, Jennifer, and Steven have chemistry on Idol that’s fun to watch, but it was still never quite right. Were they a serious judging panel, aiming to truly better these fledgling stars? Or were they a group of celebs palling around in great clothes and helping us get through the doldrums of auditions? We’re not sure and it seems the trio never fully figured it out either.
Jackson, well-known in the industry as an A&R (artists and repertoire – a.k.a. talent scouting and artistic development) expert, managed to rein in his fish-slaying metaphors and his fellow judges, but perhaps 11 years of listening to yodeling, delusional auditioners handpicked by producers and the handful of lounge and karaoke singers who inevitably make it through voting rounds every year have crushed his spirit. His commentary was never that helpful — I can’t remember the last time someone sat me down and said “Yo, dawg” and then made a really solid point — and he relied heavily on his empty, canned phrases like “This girl’s in it to win it” and “Ryan! He wants it, Ryan!”
Turn to the other judges, Lopez and Tyler, and you get two music industry veterans who were more akin to an overly affectionate aunt and a questionably loopy teddy bear than shrewd judges. They loved everyone, and Tyler was especially fond of every contestant’s “beauty,” but both singers were little more than cheerleaders with high Q scores. Sure, they were entertaining, but were they really nurturing or lending truly constructive criticism to the young artists before them? Joshua Ledet’s record, and ridiculous, 18 standing ovations beg to differ. (And in the arena, Jackson is guilty as well.)
In an emotional sense, we will certainly miss our jolly trio of Season 10/11 judges, but in a practical sense, it is time for a change. Filling a judges’ table with famous faces is so mainstream — every singing series practically considers it a prerequisite for production. But Idol never needed that. In its original form, it took two behind-the-scenes experts with colorful personalities (Simon Cowell’s was little more than grey and red, but hey, those are colors too) and a practically retired ‘80s pop star and unleashed them on bright-eyed and bushy-tailed aspiring singers. It’s what they accomplished on American Idol that made them famous (or famous again, in Paula Abdul’s case). The show stood for itself instead of feeding off of its judges’ existing clout.
And with the opportunity to return to that place now that the Fox series is forced to recast its judges, I implore Nigel Lythgoe and company to consider taking the panel in one of two directions. On one hand, Idol has always been a showcase for peacocking and slapstick. And as the judges became less and less integral (and mentor and legendary music producer Jimmy Iovine’s commentary became more and more precious), the goof-balling was largely in their court. If Idol insists on chasing entertainment over a serious competition, it should go whole ham. Bring in a slate of music industry goofballs whose stars are merely flickering and let the jokes fly. Of course, this would be a move to destroy any last shred of artistic integrity held by the series, sending it off to the land of baffling ratings and America’s Got Talent.
Option two, however, could be the remedy, and if the rumors are true, Idol may already be a third of the way there. Alum Adam Lambert is apparently in the running to judge Season 12, and while names like Mariah Carey and Katy Perry are flying around as well, going with a former contestant is a move we can get behind. In fact, if Idol doubled up on that order, nabbing one successful, outspoken former contestant like Lambert and another struggling, yet knowledgeable contestant like Casey Abrams (he’d be sure to fill that Steven-screech-shaped hole in many viewers’ hearts), it would be the perfect expert artist balance to strike. They’ve both been through a significant stretch of the competition. They both made and corrected their mistakes and lived through consequences. And they both know, firsthand, what it’s like to jump from Idol into the belly of the vicious music industry. If anyone has insight into guiding these kids, it’s alumni.
But you can’t have a judging panel without an industry expert, and Iovine has expressed his desire to stay on the mentoring side of the show (which is likely better for the contestants too). And there are plenty of successful behind-the-scenes folks to consider. From music industry classics like mega-producer Todd Rundgren to younger, hipper folks like Max Martin (Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”) and Calvin Harris (Rihanna’s “We Found Love”), Idol has a wealth of marginally famous expert personalities to choose from. (I personally think Rundgren’s old school, off-beat presence could be a welcome change of pace for the aging competition. How ‘bout it, Todd?)
Infusing a little Idol history with a fresh, industry perspective could be exactly what the doctor ordered. And who knows? If the series gets it right, we could be looking at the next Carrie Underwood come next May. And if they waste this golden opportunity, we could be staring down the barrel of the next Lee Dewyze. The choice is yours, Idol.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
[Photo Credit: Fox]
Jennifer Lopez Confirms Official Idol Exit to Ryan Seacrest
Official: Steven Tyler Exits American Idol
For many years now, Leonardo DiCaprio has been notably urbanized. Hitching to Scorsese's wagon surely did nothing to divert this. But apparently, DiCaprio is setting his sights westerly. With westerns. If you're not dead, you already know that he'll be experimenting with villainy in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Now, DiCaprio is reportedly likely to take a role in an adaptation of the novel The Creed of Violence by Boston Teran (both cities, neither of which are in the American West. So what is this guy trying to prove?).
The two leads are up for grabs: an assassin/smuggler and a government agent whose lives become intertwined. Prior to the Calvin Candie news, it was relatively unheard of for Leo to take on the bad guy roles. But in this (almost) post-Django world, there are no rules.
Attached to direct Creed of Violence is Todd Field, who helmed Little Children. Interestingly enough, both Field and DiCaprio have had acting roles in episodes of Roseanne. So... do what you will with that.
Based on books by Besson (yes he writes books too) we meet Arthur (Freddie Highmore) a 10-year-old kid living on his grandparents’ farm. But there’s trouble: Arthur’s grandfather has mysteriously disappeared and now a real estate developer wants the land Arthur’s grandma (Mia Farrow) doesn’t have enough money to keep. Maybe the solution lies in his grandpa's treasure which is hidden somewhere on the "other side" in the land of the Minimoys. Who are the Minimoys you ask? Why they are creatures that live in Arthur’s backyard just a tenth of an inch tall--that’s who. The only hope is for Arthur to enter into this miniature world become a little pointy-earred wild-haired Minimoy find the treasure in the forbidden city and save the day. For this adventurous boy that’s no problem. Arthur and the Invisibles doesn’t lack star power that’s for sure. Along with sweet-faced high-spirited Highmore (taking a step down from Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my opinion) and Farrow (who looks a little Minimoy-ish herself) we have the voices of: Madonna as the plucky Minimoy warrior princess; Jimmy Fallon as her younger klutzy brother; Robert De Niro as their father the king; Harvey Keitel as a kindly wizard; Snoop Dogg as a weird-looking miniature denizen who runs a dance club; and David Bowie as the evil ruler of the forbidden city. That’s some eclectic lineup--too bad they couldn’t all click. Poor Madonna--even her animated voice-over efforts can’t make the grade. We all know how creative French filmmaker Luc Besson can be. His offbeat sensibilities can be seen in his tense crime dramas La Femme Nikita and The Professional as well as his wildly imaginative sci-fi cult favorite The Fifth Element. But he’s been taking a break from making his own films producing and apparently writing children’s books instead. Arthur and the Invisibles is his first directorial effort since the 1999 movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and while it definitely taps into Besson’s fanciful notions--which is probably even more evident in the novels--it doesn’t necessarily translate as well to the big screen. Invisibles’ animation is lush and there’s a lot to look at but it’s almost too busy while the tepid yet convoluted story drones on. Invisibles is definitely not adult-friendly.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., March 19, 2000 - Rene Russo, the actress, didn't win any awards for her head-turning performance in "The Thomas Crown Affair." But tonight here at the Beverly Hilton, Rene Russo, the haircut, did. Welcome to the first-ever Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards, where the above-the-title stars take back seats to behind-the-scenes primping professionals.
Yes, it was the beauty folks' turn to make Oscar-like acceptance speeches and bask in the praise of thankful A-list celebrities who they've made look good, "day after day, year after year, facelift after facelift," as host Rita Rudner drolly put it.
"It's the American dream that I've heard so much about. It's happening to me right now," hair stylist Enzo Angileri said, accepting the so-called Georgie award for doing Russo's do in "Thomas Crown," named best contemporary hairstyling work.
Decades ago, hair and make-up people were treated like celebrities themselves. But the list of big names attending the awards ceremony showed that, while movie and TV beauticians may no longer make it into the gossip columns, they nonetheless are held in high esteem by those who do.
"It's an art form," said actor Billy Bob Thornton, an award presenter. As if to prove that point, Thornton showed up in full make-up (complete with oily gray hair) and costume (a Slim Whitman-meets-Colonel Sanders outfit) from "Waking Up In Reno," a film he's now shooting, in which he plays an aging country singer.
"A lot of people don't realize how much time we spend in make-up, how many hours we spend being literally transformed by these artists," he said.
Other name brands handing trophies included: Holly Hunter, Brendan Fraser (greeted by cat-calls from the audience), Ellen Burstyn, Mimi Rogers, and cast members from TV shows like "That 70's Show," "Freaks and Geeks," and "Providence." Before the event, crowds of fans and electronic lined the Beverly Hilton lobby as the stars rolled in.
Tony Curtis presented the lifetime achievement award to makeup artist Monty Westmore, who recently retired after a 50-plus-year career that included more than 100 films, ranging from "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" with Humphrey Bogart to the forthcoming "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with Jim Carrey.
Unlike the Oscars, which have been plagued by mishaps this year despite 72 years of experience, the Georgies basically survived their first go-round with almost no problems. Ballots were mailed out to the 1,100 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 706, who voted on the 17 different award categories. And the golden statuettes, which look vaguely Oscar-like, didn't disappear en route to the event.
But note the phrase: Almost no problems. Amid the celebration, two important items were missing: The champagne and sunglasses. The champagne ordered for the ceremonies never arrived, and was believed to have been delivered to another hotel. And the Calvin Klein shades that were to be supplied by the designer label and given out to the presenters, also were no-shows.
When informed of this caper, actress Christina Applegate (of "Jesse" fame) was understandably dejected.
"Was I supposed to get some glasses?" Applegate said. "Darn."
Here's a complete look at the night's winners:
Best Contemporary Makeup (Feature) Toni G and Will Huff "The General's Daughter."
Best Period Makeup (Feature) Leonard Engleman, "Tea With Mussolini."
Best Character Makeup (Feature) Kevin Yagher, Peter Owen, Elizabeth Tag and Paul Gooch, "Sleepy Hollow."
Best Effects Makeup (Feature) Greg Cannom and Wesley Wofford, "Bicentennial Man."
Best Contemporary Hair Styling (Feature) Enzo Angileri "The Thomas Crown Affair."
Best Period Hair Styling (Feature) Vivian McAteer, for Cher in "Tea With Mussolini." Television TELEVISION
Best Contemporary Makeup (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) James MacKinnon and Stephanie Fowler, "Thank You Providence," "Providence."
Best Period Makeup (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf, Kevin Westmore and LaVerne Basham, "Triangle," "The X-Files."
Best Character Makeup (Television) Jennifer Aspinall, Felicia Linsky and Ed French, Episode #507, "Mad TV."
Best Makeup Effects (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Kenny Myers, Todd A. McIntosh, Robin Beauxchesne, Douglas Noe, and Brigette Myre-Ellis, "Living Conditions," "Buffy The Vampire Slayer."
Best Period Makeup (For a Mini-Series or Movie of the Week) Sue Cabel, Matthew Mungle and Joe Hailey, "And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story."
Best Character Makeup (For a Mini-Series or Movie of the Week) Douglas Noe, for Cicely Tyson in "A Lesson Before Dying."
Best Contemporary Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Darrell Fielder, Jonathan Hanousak and Joy Zapata, "The Final Frontier," "Mad About You."
Best Period Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series -- Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Gabriella Pollino, Deborah Piper, Valerie Scott and Cindy Costello, "Prom Night," "That 70's Show."
Best Character Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Josee Normand, Charlotte Parker and Gloria Montemeyor, "Bride of Chaotica," "Star Trek Voyager."
Best Innovative Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Josee Normand, Charlotte Parker and Gloria Montemeyor, "Dragon's Teeth," "Star Trek Voyager."
Best Period Hair Styling (For a Mini-Series or Movie of the Week) Marlene Williams and Tim Jones "And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny & Cher Story."