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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After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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Tate Stevens proved to be country strong after America called in 35 million votes, crowing the country crooner as the winner on Thursday’s X Factor season finale. When Simon Cowell repeatedly said this season the 37-year-old road worker was not going back to his day job, he really meant it. (Cue: Fifth Harmony’s rendition of “Anything Could Happen.”)
The emotional teary-eyed father of two from Belton, Miss., became an American dream, proving it’s never too late to live out your dream. (We’re keeping our fingers crossed those Mayans had their own moment of irresponsible fact-checking, because he very well deserves to cash Mr. Cowell’s check.) After a well-fought battle this season, which pleasantly surprised some of those naysayers, Fifth Harmony wound up in third. But while Carly Rose Sonenclar got second place, at the tender age of 13, Little Miss Broadway still has her entire life to make herself into Lea Michele 2.0. (Insert Carly pouty face here.)
Also featured during the holiday-themed, two-hour extravaganza were One Direction, which had all of the ladies hyperventilating as they sang “Kiss You” and Mr. World Wide — a.k.a Pitbull — performing “Don’t Stop The Party.” (As Mario Lopez would say with Latin spice, “Que no pare la fiesta,” which made Khloe Kardashian get a little caliente.) After the final show this season, Hollywood.com chit-chatted with Tate Stevens, Harry Styles (ladies, contain yourselves! He’s taken… for now.), and the hosts and judges — Simon and L.A. Reid — to discuss America’s choice, Tate’s upcoming album, 1D’s upcoming tour and Rihanna possibly replacing L.A.
Tate Stevens, on the moment he was declared the winner:
Tate: Leading up to that moment, I wanted to throw up because it was so intense. I was like, “Ugh, oh my gosh.” And when they called my name, I just remember looking at L.A. Reid and I said, “They called my name. I won.” And I turned into a big old puddle of mush, and we had a big man hug for a while. But like I said, I’m blessed and I can’t thank people enough for everything they’ve done — the country fans, Tate Nation, if you want to call them that. It’s crazy. They’re so good. And I can’t thank them enough.
On being at disbelief of being the winner:
Tate: I think it’s going to take a while. I think it’s going to take a while to sink in, and really get the magnitude of what happened tonight. This is huge.
On getting his wife a special gift with the $5 million:
Tate: You know what? That’s her. If she wants something special, you know, I’ll get it. But like I said, I haven’t even thought about anything. I really, uh, I have to pee really bad.
On his upcoming album:
Tate: I haven’t really started working on it yet, I just know what we’re doing, I know where I’m going, I know the direction I want to go. It’s going to be fun. I’m going to have some songs on there that are going to be fun. I’m going to have some of the tug-at-your-heart kind of country ballads, but you know, I want to have fun. I’m a fun guy. I love having fun, so I want that to come through on my record.
On his future goals:
Tate: My next dream is to make this record, this album, and to be able to tour and live that life. And do what I love doing. I love entertaining people. I love performing for people and I’m finally getting the chance. I can’t wait.
Harry Styles, on advice for the winner:
Harry: I think they just need to stay themselves, and… the danger is to starting taking themselves too seriously. They just need to make sure they kind of know what’s it’s all about. Just have fun with it.
On One Direction’s unexpected success:
Harry: I think we wanted to keep going as a band, and I think we may have been expected to release a couple of songs in the U.K. We’ve never expected any of this, so it’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve had a great year.
On his best moment of 2012:
Harry: I think [playing at Madison Square Garden] was the icing on the cake for last year. It was absolutely amazing.
On One Direction’s next tour:
Harry: The last tour is, like, made for smaller places, and this time, we are actually going to be able to make it for bigger places. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Simon Cowell, on rooting for Tate to win:
Simon: I was, because I look at him and Carly — one is 13 years old and the other is 37 and married with kids — my heart says it has to go to him because he needs it more than she does.
On Tate’s upcoming album:
Simon: It has to come out by July/August next year. But they've already started working on his album. [Producer] John Shanks, who was on the show, wanted to work with him regardless and started working on material. The country world has really embraced this guy. They think he is the real deal. Like I said on the show last night, I think he's going to sell a lot of records this guy. I think he's going to fill the spot Garth Brooks [had].
L.A. Reid, on what he’ll miss not being on the show:
L.A.: The biggest joy I get from it is that I know we actually get to change some people’s lives. That’s what I love. It’s not so much — I don’t really need fame, I don’t need popularity. What I really need is that really good complete feeling that I’ve helped change someone’s life. And that’s always been my mission, and I had a great time doing the X Factor.
On who he wants to replace him:
L.A.: I think Rihanna should fill my spot, so that I have a reason to watch.
Khloe Kardashian, on emotional Tate:
Khloe: Honestly, Tate is so open with his emotions. He's onstage in front of millions of people, and he's a grown man that will shed a tear, and I think that's something that's so endearing about him. Every emotion – I feel like there's nothing that he hasn't shown.
On Tate keeping his feet on the ground:
Khloe: I found really cool about Tate is that every time he would be like, "You know, tomorrow I might have to go back home and get back to work.” And I'm like, "Are you kidding? Do you hear yourself?" It's interesting that someone like him it doesn't get to your head a little bit. I think it would, but it never did for him.
Mario Lopez, on America picking Tate:
Mario: Yeah, I mean you can't argue with America. I just love the fact that this is the only show a 37-year-old guy could get a shot and he took that shot and he won the whole thing. He's a blue-collar guy with kids — it’s just an amazing story.
On Tate’s fan base:
Mario: I think Tate is going to have an immediate impact because that fan base is so strong. That country fan base has really rallied behind him. I think whenever he decides to release his album I think he is going to have a lot of support and he'll be just fine.
[Image Credit: TK]
The X Factor Season Finale Recap: A Little Bit Country
X Factor Judge Simon Cowell on Tate Stevens: ‘I’d Be Happy to Write Him a Check’
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.