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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Touting itself for the definitive awards show for "stuff guys want," the Guys Choice Awards is Spike's annual tribute to men who deliver on manliness, women who define modern hotness (which requires both looks and brains, people) and general stand outs in both pop culture and sports that fit the bill. Really, anything goes if it's up a man's alley.
This year, celebs from across Hollywood came to party at the rowdiest awards show in town, including Adam Sandler, Jeremy Renner, Mila Kunis, Matthew McConaughey, Kristen Bell, Julianne Hough, Channing Tatum, Malin Ackerman and Andy Samberg. This year's big winners were even more diverse. Here's the rundown of the kings of the 2012 Guys Choice Awards:
Best Ass Kicker
Most Dangerous Man
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Holy Grail of Hot
Our New Girlfriend
Guy of the Year
Top Fantasy Leaguer
Hot and Funny
Outstanding Literary Achievement
Dick Cheney, In My Time
Tina Fey, Bossypants
Jean-Claude Gahd Damn
Rookie of the Year
Best Fight Scene
Mark Wahlberg (Contrabad)
Mark Wahlberg (Ted)
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Step aside Giants, Patriots, Packers and whatever other teams thinks that it stands a chance to make it to the Super Bowl this year — it's time for Team Hollywood to get in the game. (We'd draft you if we could, Tom Brady and Eli Manning!)
While we may not be looking for the sweatiest jocks in town, we definitely know how to scout. Whether it's scoping a good arm or projecting a new play, these are the stars that we choose to draft for Team Hollywood. This is guaranteed to be a championship winning team!
Sandra Bullock as Coach
Bullock must be one of the most well collected individuals when it comes to being in front of a camera. She knows how to remain calm when a storm (like Jesse James) attacks — and she always can plan her next strategy. She would be a PR dream come true if it came to leading a football team. And it doesn't hurt that she won an Oscar for role as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. (My pick)
George Clooney as Quarterback
He's great at devising new plays, especially if he's up against Brad Pitt's team. He also isn't deterred by old, grisly-like men who try to tackle him, especially if the playing field is in D.C.
Gina Carano as punter
If she can kick Michael Fassbender's ass, imagine what she could do with a football. (Aly Semigran's pick)
Joe Manganiello as a Running Back
This may be 98 percent based on the fact that he looks really, really good running through the forest in True Blood, so by the transitive property, he’d look great running to catch a pass on the field. The other two percent comes from sheer curiosity: what does a werewolf’s end zone dance look like? (Kelsea Stahler's Pick)
Angelina Jolie as a Running Back
She’d catch the defense standing and staring every time she runs with the ball — especially if she flaunts a leg, Oscars style. This could backfire, however, if the defense tries to tackle her… like, lustfully. (Brian Marder's pick)
Jason Schwartzman as the Placekicker
He’s plucky, he’s courageous, he’s wily. He might not be big, but he’s got heart, and the sarcastic wit that keeps the team upbeat in times of duress. Most importantly, when it comes down the last point of the game, it’s always the small guy who believed in himself when no one else did (I got all of my football knowledge from movies in the ‘90s). (Michael Arbeiter's pick)
Winona Ryder as the Wide Receiver
Her expertise in snatching and running (a football is about the size of a bag of Sachs Fifth Avenue garments, no?) will come in handy when fleeing from the authorities opposing team. (Matthew Patches' pick)
Channing Tatum as a Tight End
The reasons for this are obvious, but he's physically fit enough to be a fast runner and still broad enough to be an effective blocker. Plus, can you imagine that body in a football uniform? The title says it all — this guy deserves to strut his stuff out on the field. (Kelly Schremph's pick)
Taylor Kitsch as a Tight End
Tim Riggins lost his way when he left the Dillon Panthers, and Taylor has had some serious misfires in big-screen land. Let's get him back to TE, where he can work his magic on the O-Line AND catch Clooney's Hail Marys. (Shaunna Murphy's pick)
Justin Bieber as a Head Cheerleader
The swarm of screaming girls that follow him everywhere he goes would put any team's cheering squad to shame. Also, we could use "Boyfriend" or any of his other hit songs as the theme song for our team. Taylor Swift can be the co-captain. Why do girls become cheerleaders in the first place? Because they can't carry a tune!
And of course, Rob Schneider has to be the Gatorade jug! (Kate Ward's pick)
Hut, hut, hike!
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The mood was somber and celebrity little more than a means to an end when tonight's telethon, America: A Tribute to Heroes, was shown on every major network and most of the major cable channels. There was no audience applauding; there was no audience, period, except those at home. There were no introductions; that wasn't the point, as celebrity speakers made clear throughout the night by telling the stories of the many heroes who lost their lives and saved the lives of others.
To commemorate Sept. 11, a day that could easily be thought of as "the day the music died," talented and famous faces came together for an evening of songs, stories, and yes, the occasional call for contributions.
The speeches tonight came in all varieties, all impassioned, some tearful, others awkward. A clearly nervous Jim Carrey spoke of Winston Churchill, then told the story of heroes who saved a woman by carrying her down 68 flights of stairs. George Clooney spoke of John Perry, a New York City policeman who'd filed his retirement papers the morning of Sept. 11, but heard of the tragedy and went to help. He never came back, Clooney said.
Cameron Diaz told stories of teachers who saved children at schools near the World Trade Center. Robin Williams talked of a hero who'd saved lives in the 1993 bombing and again this time, only last Tuesday he didn't make it out himself. Jimmy Smits spoke of police heroes, "cops who are willing to sacrifice their lives in an instant, for people they do not know." Julia Roberts spoke tearfully of heroes at the Pentagon, and the flying of the flag and the applause that greeted it.
Kelsey Grammer, who lost a co-worker aboard one of the flights that crashed, quoted words of strength from John F. Kennedy. Clint Eastwood talked gruffly of a day that would live in infamy.
Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Calista Flockhart, Conan O'Brien, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ray Romano, Jane Kaczmarek, Sela Ward, Chris Rock and Dennis Franz also spoke.
With some of the biggest names in music on the bill, America: A Tribute to Heroes was bound to be good. Bruce Springsteen opened with a candlelit acoustic performance of "My City of Ruins." Willie Nelson closed the two-hour event with "God Bless America," backed by an all-star cast of celebs who had been manning the phones all night. Does it get any better than that? Cut the album; give the proceeds to charity. We're there.
Of course, there were those who pointed out the reason for the event in their songs. Stevie Wonder, who followed The Boss, sang, "Love's in Need of Love Today," with the rather pointed line, "Don't delay, send yours in right away." Wyclef Jean's version of "Redemption Song" was peppered with cries of "Brooklyn" and "New York City" and "we've got to full-fill that book," which he sang while pointing to the phone bank.
The much-maligned Mariah Carey sang the only song she could under the circumstances, "Hero," of which she said, "When I wrote this song," she said, "it had a lot of meaning for me, and tonight it has even more meaning." Well said.
U2 appeared from London. Billy Joel tossed off a powerful rendition of "New York State of Mind" with a firefighter's helmet perched atop the piano. Faith Hill, Enrique Iglasias, Alicia Keys, a bearded and shaggy Tom Petty (with requisite Heartbreakers), a cowboy-hatted Neil Young performed as well. The Dixie Chicks were spot on, and Dave Matthews did an impressive solo acoustic tune.
Jon Bon Jovi did "Living on a Prayer"; Sting dedicated his performance of "Fragile" to a friend who died in the attacks. Sheryl Crow performed, and Paul Simon sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, James Woods, Meg Ryan, Cuba Gooding Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Ben Stiller, Penelope Cruz, Danny DeVito, Halle Berry, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Benicio Del Toro, Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Sally Field and other famous faces were seen answering phones at the telethon bank or singing backing vocals on the finale of "God Bless America."
The stars also took the time to make a point about the evils of racism and hate. Several Arab children spoke of the tragedy and its affect on their lives, then Will Smith appeared on stage, with Muhammad Ali, whom he'll be portraying in the forthcoming Ali.
"It was hate, not religion that motivated the attacks," Smith said.
Then Ali spoke. "I'm here because of the troublin' thing that happened the other day. I'm a Muslim, and I've been a Muslim for 20 years…. I think people should know the real truth about Islam. You know me, I'm a boxer…and a man of truth, and I wouldn't be here defending Islam if it was really like the terrorists made it look…. Islam is peace."
Later in the show, Lucy Liu said "America's greatest enemy is hatred itself."
The telethon was Hollywood's effort to generate contributions for the September 11th Telethon Fund, which is administered by the United Way and guaranteed to be distributed 100% to the victims of the terrorist attacks on America last week and their families.
Alpine University film student Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison) needs to start her senior project but she's stymied by a case of screenwriter's block. Then a chance encounter with the new campus cop (Loretta Devine the only link to the original "Urban Legend") gives her an idea: She'll make a film about a serial killer who slays college students in ways related to urban legends. Needless to say her cast and crew members (Joseph Lawrence Eva Mendez Jessica Cauffiel) start to disappear in a series of bizarre and mysterious incidents. And yes the killer is the person you would least suspect but only because he/she lacks a plausible motive.
Morrison ("Stir of Echoes") never finds the right mix of vulnerability naïveté and attitude to play the slasher flick damsel-in-distress-turned-heroine. (And she's never in any real peril.) Sorely missing are the outrageous performances that Rebecca Gayheart Danielle Harris and Julian Richings provided in the original "Urban Legend" -- the supporting players shackled to tired Hollywood clichés and a lackluster story never get to exercise their dramatic talents.
Freshman director John Ottman struggles with an already sputtering script by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson. Apparently the muse of over-the-top schlock horror blessed the first 15 minutes of the film then succumbed to spontaneous human combustion. With the exception of a mildly amusing "Blair Witch" cinéma-vérité parody the balance of the film generates neither thrill nor swill.
Let's hear it for the old guy who in this movie comes off sexier than his buff young accomplice (Dermot Mulroney). OK the old guy happens to be the gracefully aging icon Paul Newman -- as a feisty heistmeister who dodges a long prison sentence and then teams up with his equally conniving rest-home nurse (Linda Fiorentino) on a bank job gone wrong. "Where the Money Is" is breezy suspenseful and as much a love story as anything else -- if you call mentoring a new life in crime a kind of love. The mission-improbable caper is no more or less entertaining than a "Rockford Files" rerun but the film's swerving joyride takes its real thrills from the great escape that Fiorentino's Bonnie Parker makes from a dead-end life in the married lane.
Newman still hasn't lost it and as Henry Manning he doesn't miss any nuances in the edgy balance between streetwise wariness and amiable rapport with his sultry new colleague. The steam-powered Fiorentino has forged her career by making danger look casual and this is her most alluring work since "The Last Seduction" added another zero to her salary. Her chemistry with Newman a flirty twist on the idea of honor among thieves is really what makes this movie worth seeing. Mulroney is serviceable as the dim but lovable hubby a supporting role that's more foil than fully etched character.
We can all thank director Marek Kanievska for deciding not to have the May-December duo end up in the sack and leaving them simply professional cohorts. The director's admirable sense of comic timing works all the better by not letting the laughs get in the way of his leads' exploration of their characters -- although there's no denying the limits of this frothy genre. Perhaps Kanievska's greatest feat here is allowing Newman to retain his dignity in close-up.