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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That atrocious final chapter aside, people love them some Jack Sparrow. (Especially Michael Bolton!) They love the gravely voice, the spacey demeanor, the marionette-like posture. And although each of these elements was birthed by Johnny Depp, in the role that turned him from cult favorite to omnipresent movie star, it seems as though a few people are willing to see them carried out by another Hollywood icon. An equally beloved, perhaps more respected, thespian — Kermit the Frog. With The Muppets... Again! brewing for 2014, some fans of Jim Henson's felt family were inspired to put together a crossover video between the 1996 picture Muppet treasure Island, and Depp's ongoing franchise Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the video, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Tim Curry all inhabit (in a rather impressive dub job) the Pirates characters, channeling fandom of both entertaining realms. Check out the parody trailer below.
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The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
College. A time to find yourself, grow, branch out, and... endure yet another love triangle. Glee's heroine Rachel Berry has been the object of many a rivalry: Finn vs. Puck, Finn vs. Jesse, Finn vs. Jacob Ben Israel. But a new basis for conflict is on the horizon: with Rachel and Finn still in love, but many miles apart, it leaves their relationship on uneven ground. Fox has announced two new cast members for the upcoming season of Glee, and one will present a bit of a conflict in the realm of the Rachel/Finn department: Dean Geyer (Terra Nova) will play NYADA student Brody Weston, who develops an interest in freshman Rachel. Also joining the Glee cast is Jacob Artist, who will play Puck's trouble-making half-brother. Both actors will appear in the series' season premiere on Thursday, Sept. 13.
More info straight from Fox: Animation Domination is lining up several impressive stars to lend their voices to The Simpsons, the Seth MacFarlane lot, and Bob's Burgers for each program during the upcoming television season:The Simpsons: Zooey Deschanel returns to Springfield as Mary, Bart's estranged wife and daughter of Cletus the Slackjawed Yokel.The Cleveland Show: Kanye West and Bryan Cranston return to the series, with newcomers Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, Sofia Vergara and Nick Offerman.Family Guy: Johnny Depp brings his Edward Scissordhands character to Family Guy; Jon Hamm, Kellan Lutz, Elizabeth Banks, Ryan Reynolds, J.J. Abrams, Christina Milian, and Dick Wolf will also make appearances.American Dad: Patrick Stewart returns to the show as Stan's boss Avery Bullock, with Sarah Michelle Geller, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Danny Glover, and Hogwarts grad Rupert Grint also appearing.Bob's Burgers: Zach Galifianakis will play a department store owner in love with a mannequin; Nick Offerman joins this show as well, along with real life wife (and Parks and Rec ex-wife) Megan Mullally, and Parks costar Aziz Ansari. Jeffrey Tambor, Bill Hader, Sarah Silverman, and Kevin Kline also appear.A piece of unconfirmed news surrounding the HBO series Game of Thrones: Screen Crush mentions Misfits star Iwan Rheon as a possible new cast member. Rheon, who played Simon Bellamy on the outstanding United Kingdom sci-fi series, has been mentioned in attachment to the character Ramsay Snow, a.k.a. Ramsay Bolton, the bastard son of Roose Bolton.
Speaking of superhero veterans: TVLine reports that Jack Coleman, star of NBC's Heroes (as well as a recurring player on The Vampire Diaries), will be taking a role on Castle as a problematic U.S. Senator... kind of like he does on The Office.
Finally, TVLine reports that Hart of Dixie is adding Golden Brooks (Girlfriends) to its cast for the upcoming second season. She will play a recurring character who returns to Bluebell and befriends the main character.
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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It seems that while the big Hollywood donkeys got their rest after Day One of the Democratic National Convention, President Clinton had a little more partying to do. Especially since he was about to receive Tinseltown's biggest honor.
Yep, that's right -- after he wistfully practiced an acceptance speech with Kevin Spacey's Academy Award (and having Spacey take it away from him) during his famous "Clinton: The Final Days" video spoof, President Clinton finally received an "Oscar" for Best President at the Democratic Party's Welcoming Party Monday night.
The trophy, in true Hollywood fashion, was presented by California Gov. Gray Davis at Paramount Studios. Clinton, accompanied by wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, joked, "I had Kevin Spacey's Oscar and he was ungracious enough to come and take it away from me just because he won it and I didn't.
"So now that I have one of my very own, I'll be able to lord it over him."
But the real question of the evening was not whether Gov. Davis was hoarding one of the missing Oscar statuettes all this time, but where the "star-studded" part of the evening was to commence. After all, the biggest stars on the red carpet (lined with 'Academy Award' statues, of course) were Jim Carrey (well, actually a pretender, complete with Ace Ventura hair and talking out of his butt) and Marilyn Monroe (ditto, but no butt-talking).
Where were all those high-profile Gore supporters, like TV's "West Wing" president, Martin Sheen, or Kevin Costner, or Dylan McDermott? Where was Enrique Iglesias?
Presidential Partyer Gary Busey By 9 p.m., much to the infuriation of all reporters, the biggest star on the scene was ... Gary Busey. Nonetheless, Busey drew such a desperate press frenzy (likely the largest of his career) that one journalist was asking, "Who is that? Is that God?"
By 9:30 p.m., with press cages bare and reporters sipping Coronas, hope of finding any famous face among the thousands faded quickly.
"My friend thinks she saw Jeff Bridges pull up in a car," one lady offers. We think we spot the skimpy-dressed Christina Aguilera -- until she looks our way. (Turns out we were off by 30 years).
Other sightings included Tobey Maguire, Carmen Electra, Anjelica Huston, Victoria Rowell ("The Young and the Restless"), Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols and '80s popster Tiffany.
Meanwhile, the available star power did their best. Actor Joe Pantoliano ("The Matrix") and Kevin Pollak ("The Whole Nine Yards") made the introductions, the latter bombing through a number of stand-up jokes (including impressions of Ross Perot and Gore's running mate Joseph Lieberman). Celebrity Democracy Readings featured Frances Fisher, Noah Wyle, Laurence Fishburne and Alfre Woodard reciting famous orations by John F. Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few.
We'd like to think that Whoopi and Barbra didn't pass the disorganized but ultra-tight security entrance, but we're pretty sure they were hiding out in the V.I.P lounge instead, laughing as the masses sway to "Lean On Me," meant to be a unifying Democratic anthem, led by Michael Bolton.
Yes, Michael Bolton. And no, Gary Busey did not join in.