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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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Skewering the politics of the left--and Michael Moore in particular--is not a terrible idea for comedy but American Carol doesn’t do it very successfully. Using the hackneyed uninspired approach of spoofing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol director David Zucker’s version has the Ghosts of John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin) General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer) and George Washington (Jon Voight) visiting a liberal documentary filmmaker named Michael Malone (Kevin Farley) in order to set him straight and teach him not to hate America but to embrace it in all its glory. Their goal is to stop him from helping a group of Islamic suicide bombers make a new recruitment film. In a series of gags American Carol presents Malone as a man who uses the medium to bash his country. He is portrayed as sympathetic to Nazis and Hitler responsible for 9/11 in bed with Middle Eastern terrorists--wrong on every possible issue and overweight to boot. After pointing out all his perceived evil the ghosts try to get Moore er Malone to see the light and change his ways. Apparently David Zucker--aware most of Hollywood leans to the left--got a list of actors known to be supporters of the GOP and hired them all. Voight Grammer James Woods Kevin Sorbo Dennis Hopper Robert Davi ET’s Mary Hart country singer Trace Adkins and even Zucker veteran Leslie Nielsen signed up to bash Moore using a sledgehammer approach as a substitute for the lack of a clever script. Occasionally thanks to an inspired casting choice here and there Carol is kind of amusing such as in a scene in which Malone and Rosie O’Connell (get it?) guest on the O’Reilly Factor. With Bill O’Reilly playing himself (and doing it well) actress Vicki Browne really nails Rosie who is presented as so far left she makes Moore look like Ronald Reagan. As Malone Farley (younger brother of the late Chris Farley) looks reasonably like Moore but doesn’t really get the mannerisms right. It’s not enough to try and get by just by putting on a baseball cap and glasses and hoping for the best. Of the rest Grammer comes off well as Patton delivering his lines with a lot more panache than they deserve. You know what kind of movie you’re watching when even Gary Coleman and Paris Hilton turn up for a bit. Zucker--whose films Airplane! and the The Naked Gun series specialize in inspired sight gags--seems to have forgotten how to make this style of throw-it-to-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks style of comedy work. Surprisingly the jokes are mostly verbal in this outing and the whole comic soufflé falls flat. Also the events of 9/11 are still too close to serve as a gateway for a few of the gags employed here. The premise is promising but the Michael Malone/Moore character is so far out he doesn’t resemble reality much less the famous Moore. Blaming him for all the ills of the world may be cathartic for the ultra-conservative base Zucker is apparently aiming An American Carol at but there needs to be more than just a kernel of truth to make these jokes zing. Instead what could have been an amusing riff looks more like a propaganda film out to destroy Moore rather than spoof him.
O.J. Simpson is making a rare public appearance at a Halloween-themed comic book
convention, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of his acquittal on
The former football player has agreed to put in a three-day
appearance at Los Angeles' NecroComicon show, which started Saturday,
as a favor to a pal.
Promoter Tom Riccio insists Simpson is "not getting a penny" for his visit,
but is using the event as a possible trial run for future public appearances
which he'll make "in exchange for donations to his kids' college fund."
Riccio says, "A lot of promoters are watching this to see how it goes, and
we're going to take it from there." Riccio plans to charge $95 for
photographs and T-shirts signed by Simpson, and $125 for autographed
football jerseys and helmets.
Yesterday, Simpson was joined at the event by his old friend and
former football teammate Al Cowlings, who drove his pal around Los Angeles
during the televised police pursuit that ended with Simpson's arrest at his
home on murder charges.
Today marks 10 years since a California jury found Simpson not
guilty of murder in the June 1994 slashing and stabbing deaths of his ex-wife,
Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
In 1997, a civil court jury found Simpson liable for the deaths and ordered
him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the families of the
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Top Story: Rob Lowe Joins Schwarzenegger Campaign
Action star-turned-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has tapped former The West Wing co-star Rob Lowe to join his campaign. According to Variety, the Schwarzenegger campaign said Lowe will coordinate a coalition of artists and entertainers in endorsing the candidate. "Arnold is exciting and dynamic to the Hollywood community and we're thrilled Rob has decided to bring on as many artists and entertainers to the campaign as possible," Schwarzenegger spokesperson Sean Walsh said. Plans to officially announce Lowe and other coordinators will be announced later this week. But how much does Lowe, who portrayed a White House political adviser on NBC's The West Wing, really know about real life affairs of state? The actor teamed with Jane Fonda to support a California clean water initiative in 1986 and supported then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis's failed 1988 presidential bid. In fact, it was in a hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta that year that Lowe videotaped himself in a sexual tryst with two women--one of them underage. Lowe, a longtime Democrat, joins billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz on Schwarzenegger's team.
Coleman, Carey To Enter "Debating Game"
Actor Gary Coleman and adult film star Mary Carey will take part in a gubernatorial candidate debate to be broadcast Oct. 1 on The Game Show Network, The Associated Press reports. The diminutive star and the porn actress are among 135 candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he's recalled in the Oct. 7 election. They will be among a panel of five who will appear on the show titled Who Wants To Be Governor of California? The Debating Game. According to the network, the contestant receiving the most votes in the election will receive $21,200, the maximum corporate campaign contribution allowed by California law. Three more contestants will be announced over the next two weeks, the network said.
Seabiscuit Star Thrown From Horse
Top American jockey Gary Stevens, who portrays jockey great George Woolf in the biopic Seabiscuit, was hospitalized after being thrown off his horse, Storming Home, just a few strides past the finish line in the Arlington Million in Illinois Saturday. A hospital spokesperson says Stevens's left shoulder was stepped on when he fell off of his mount but he is listed in fair condition. According to Reuters, Stevens didn't move for five minutes after the fall, but eventually sat up and moved his legs before he was carried on a stretcher and later taken to Northwest Community Hospital. Storming Home placed fourth in the race.
Ziering's Former Housekeeper Convicted of Grand Theft
Actor Ian Ziering's former housekeeper, Gloria Lopez, was convicted Friday of grand theft for stealing a pendant and other items from the former Beverly Hills, 90210 actor that had belonged to his late mother. Lopez, 48, also was also convicted of petty theft for stealing a cell phone from Ziering's friend, actor David Sheinkopf of the cable television show Design on a Dime. In testimony, Ziering said after the items disappeared he went to a friend's house where he knew Lopez also worked and found "a treasure trove" in Lopez's car. Lopez's attorney told jurors the housekeeper found the items in the trash. According to the AP, Lopez was ordered jailed without bail and faces a maximum of three years and six months in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 11.
Disney and DreamWorks Settle Release Date Scuffle
Disney and DreamWorks's battle for the Nov. 5, 2004, weekend is over, Variety reports. DreamWorks had chosen that release date for its animated shark feature Sharkslayer but when Disney and Pixar announced the release of The Incredibles that same weekend, DreamWorks backed off from the date to avoid going up against a Pixar juggernaut. Instead the studio will release Sharkslayer on Oct. 1, 2004. Next November is proving to be a busy month for animated fare: Warner Bros. will release its all-CGI pic Polar Express from Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis, while Paramount is set to bow its Spongebob SquarePants feature.
Fox Sends Out Web Coupons for DVDs
Sales of 20th Century Fox's Daredevil DVD are benefiting from a fairly new technology: the printable online coupon. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox's latest monthly e-mail newsletter, which is sent out to 1 million subscribers, featured a $5 off coupon for the Ben Affleck superhero pic. Although it will be months before the studio can determine the effectiveness of the campaign, Richard Ashton, director of database marketing at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said the coupons at least leave a paper trail showing how their customers are shopping. Fox limited the number of online coupons to 50,000 and prevented exact copies of them from being made by using bar codes.
Never-Before-Released Elvis Song To Be Issued
This fall, RCA Records is putting out a never-before-released song recorded by Elvis Presley nearly 40 years ago, Reuters reports. The recently unearthed single, "I'm a Roustabout," will be issued as part of a new collection of favorites from the King of Rock 'n' Roll. The song was originally written for the 1964 Presley film Roustabout and was even recorded by Presley, but the song was rejected by producers and never used. A completely different song eventually became the title song for both the movie and the No. 1 album of the same name. Presley died Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.
R&B Songwriter Ed Townsend Dead at 74
Ed Townsend, the rhythm-and-blues songsmith who wrote the 1958 hit "For Your Love," died of a heart attack Wednesday in Sun City, Calif., at the age of 74, Reuters reports. During a career that spanned five decades, Townsend, known as ""Big Papa" by friends, penned over 200 songs. He is credited with helping to shape a string of R&B hits recorded by