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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Forget actors for once. Sunday night marked the night of awards season when we got to focus on the best musical artists of the year. That's right — it was the 55th annual Grammy Awards! And it was one hell of a show. From Adele to Mumford & Sons to Frank Ocean, the best of the best in the industry walked away with awards.
Check out the full list of winners below!
RELATED: Kim Kashkashian Wins A Grammy?!
Winners Announced Live:
1. Best Pop Solo Performance: "Set Fire To The Rain [Live]," Track from: Live At The Royal Albert Hall, Adele
2. Best Country Solo Performance: "Blown Away," Track from: Blown Away, Carrie Underwood
3. Song Of The Year: "We Are Young," Track from: Some Nights, Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost, and Nate Ruess, songwriters (Fun. Featuring Janelle Monáe)
4. Best Urban Contemporary Album: Channel Orange, Frank Ocean
5. Best Rock Performance: "Lonely Boy," Track from: El Camino, The Black Keys
6. Best Pop Vocal Album: Stronger, Kelly Clarkson
7. Best Rap/Sung Collabortion: "No Church In The Wild," Track from: Watch The Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West Featuring Frank Ocean and The-Dream
8. Best Country Album: Uncaged, Zac Brown Band
9. Best New Artist: fun.
10. Record Of The Year: "Somebody That I Used To Know," Track from: Making Mirrors, Gotye Featuring Kimbra
11. Album Of The Year: Babel, Mumford & Sons
1. Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: Gotye Featuring Kimbra, Track from: Making Mirrors
2. Best Pop Instrumental Album: Impressions, Chris Botti
3. Best Dance Recording: "Bangarang," Track from: Bangarang, Skrillrex Featuring Sirah
4. Best Dance/Electric Album: Bangarang, Skrillex
5. Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Kisses On The Bottom, Paul McCartney
6. Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance: "Love Bites (So Do I)," Track from: The Strange Case Of..., Halestorm
7. Best Rock Song: "Lonely Boy," Track from: El Camino, Dan Auerbach, Brian Burton, and Patrick Carney, songwriters (The Black Keys)
8. Best Rock Album: El Camino, The Black Keys
9. Best Alternative Music Album: Making Mirrors, Gotye
10. Best R&B Performance: "Climax," Track from: Looking 4 Myself, Usher
11. Best Traditional R&B Performance: "Love On Top," Track from: 4, Beyonce
12. Best R&B Song: "Adorn," Miguel Pimentel
13. Best R&B Album: Black Radio, Robert Glasper Experiment
14. Best Rap Performance: "N****s In Paris," Track from: Watch The Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West
15. Best Rap Song: "N****s In Paris," Track from: Watch The Throne, Shawn Carter, Mike Dean, Chauncey Hollis, and Kanye West, songwriters (W.A. Donaldson, songwriter) (Jay-Z & Kanye West)
16. Best Rap Album: Take Care, Drake
17. Best Country Duo/Group Performance: "Pontoon," Little Big Town
18. Best Country Song: "Blown Away," Blown Away, Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins, songwriters (Carrie Underwood)
19. Best New Age Album: Echoes Of Love, Omar Akram
20. Best Improvised Jazz Solo: "Hot House," Track from: Hot House, Gary Burton and Chick Corea
21. Best Jazz Vocal Album: Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding
22. Best Jazz Instrumental Album: Unity Band, Pat Metheny Unity Band
23. Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album: Dear Diz (Everyday I Think Of You), Arturo Sandoval
24. Best Latin Jazz Album: ¡Ritmo!, The Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band
25. Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance: "10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord," Track from: 10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman
26. Best Gospel Song: "Go Get It," Erica Campbell, Tina Campbell, and Warryn Campbell, songwriters (Mary Mary)
27. Best Contemporary Christian Music Song: "10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)," Track from: 10,000 Reasons, Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, songwriters (Matt Redman)
28. Best Gospel Album: Gravity, Lecrae
29. Best Contemporary Christian Music Album: Eye On It, TobyMac
30. Best Latin Pop Album: MTV Unplugged Deluxe Edition, Juanes
31. Best Latin Album, Urban Or Alternative Album: Imaginaries, Quetzal
32. Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano): Pecados Y Milagros, Lila Downs
33. Best Tropical Latin Album: Retro, Marlow Rosado Y La Riquena
34. Best Americana Album: Slipstream, Bonnie Raitt
35. Best Bluegrass Album: Nobody Knows You, Steep Canyon Rangers
36. Best Blues Album: Locked Down, Dr. John
37. Best Folk Album: The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile
38. Best Regional Roots Music Album: The Band Courtbouillon, Wayne Toups, Steve Riley, and Wilson Savoy
39. Best Reggae Album: Rebirth, Jimmy Cliff
40. Best World Music Album: The Living Room Sessions Part 1, Ravi Shankar
41. Best Children's Album: Can You Canoe?, The Okee Dokee Brothers
42. Best Spoken World Album: Society's Child: My Autobiography, Janis Ian
43. Best Comedy Album: Blow Your Pants Off, Jimmy Fallon
44. Best Musical Theater Album: Once: A New Musical, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti, principal soloists; Steven Epstein and Martin Lowe, producers (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, composers/lyricists) (Original Broadway Cast With Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti, and Others)
45. Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media: Midnight In Paris, Various Artists
46. Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, composers
47. Best Song Written For Visual Media: Safe & Sound (From The Hunger Games), T Bone Burnett, Taylor Swift, John Paul White, and Joy Williams, songwriters (Taylor Swift Featuring The Civil Wars)
48. Best Instrumental Composition: "Mozart Goes Dancing," Track from: Hot House, Chick Corea
49. Best Instrumental Arrangement: "How About You," Track from: Centennial - Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans, Gil Evans, arranger (Gil Evans Project)
50. Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s): "City Of Roses," Track from: Radio Music Society, Thara Memory and Esperanza Spalding, arrangers (Esperanza Spalding)
51. Best Recording Package: Biophilia, Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, art directors (Björk)
52. Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package: Woody At 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection, Fritz Klaetke, art director (Woody Guthrie)
53. Best Album Notes: Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles, Billy Vera, album notes writer (Ray Charles)
54. Best Historical Album: The Smile Sessions (Deluxe Box Set), Alan Boyd, Mark Linett, Brian Wilson, and Dennis Wolfe, compilation producers; Mark Linett, mastering engineer (The Beach Boys)
55. Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical: The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Richard King, engineer; Richard King, mastering engineer (Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile)
56. Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical: Dan Auerbach, El Camino (The Black Keys), Locked Down (Dr. John), Savage (Hacienda), Shakedown (Hacienda)
57. Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical: "Promises (Skrillex & Nero Remix)," Skrillex, remixer (Nero), Joseph Ray, Skrillex, and Daniel Stephens, remixers
58. Best Surround Soung Album: Modern Cool, Jim Anderson, surround mix engineer; Darcy Proper, surround mastering engineer; Michael Friedman, surround producer (Patricia Barber)
59. Best Engineered Album, Classical: Life & Breath - Choral Works By René Clausen, Tom Caulfield and John Newton, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Charles Bruffy and Kansas City Chorale)
60. Producer Of The Year: Blanton Alspaugh, Chamber Symphonies (Gregory Wolynec & Gateway Chamber Orchestra), Davis: Río De Sangre (Joseph Rescigno, Vale Rideout, Ava Pine, John Duykers, Kerry Walsh, Guido LeBron, The Florentine Opera Company & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra), Gjeilo: Northern Lights (Charles Bruffy & Phoenix Chorale), In Paradisum (Brian A. Schmidt & South Dakota Chorale), Life & Breath - Choral Works By René Clausen (Charles Bruffy & Kansas City Chorale), Music For A Time Of War (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony, Musto: The Inspector (Glen Cortese & Wolf Trap Opera Company)
61. Best Orchestral Performance: "Adams: Harmonielehre & Short Ride In A Fast Machine," Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
62. Best Opera Recording: "Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen," James Levine and Fabio Luisi, conductors; Hans-Peter König, Jay Hunter Morris, Bryn Terfel and Deborah Voigt; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
63. Best Choral Performance: "Life & Breath - Choral Works By René Clausen," Charles Bruffy, conductor (Matthew Gladden, Lindsey Lang, Rebecca Lloyd, Sarah Tannehill, and Pamela Williamson; Kansas City Chorale)
64. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance: "Meanwhile," Eighth Blackbird
65. Best Classical Instrumental Solo: "Kurtág & Ligeti: Music For Viola," Kim Kashkashian
66. Best Classical Vocal Solo: "Poèmes," Renée Fleming (Alan Gilbert and Seiji Ozawa; Orchestre National De France & Orchestre Philharmonique De Radio France)
67. Best Classical Compendium: "Penderecki: Fonogrammi; Horn Concerto; Partita; The Awakening Of Jacob; Anaklasis," Antoni Wit, conductor; Aleksandra Nagórko and Andrzej Sasin, producers
68. Best Contemporary Classical Composition: "Hartke, Stephen: Meanwhile - Incidental Music To Imaginary Puppet Plays," Track from: Meanwhile, Stephen Hartke, composer (Eighth Blackbird)
69. Best Short Form Music Video: "We Found Love," Rihanna Featuring Calvin Harris
70. Best Long Form Music Video: "Big Easy Express," Mumford & Sons
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
[Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]
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There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.
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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Just one day after ABC announced its surprising fall 2001 lineup, CBS followed suit Wednesday with some curveballs of its own.
The Eye Network will bring back 16 primetime programs, CBS President Les Moonves announced Wednesday - including Survivor, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Everybody Loves Raymond and Judging Amy - and also will introduce eight new series starring some of Hollywood's heavyweights.
Survivor and CSI will remain Thursday's double-threat, and the Monday lineup of strong sitcoms, including King of Queens, Yes, Dear, Raymond and Becker, also will stay untouched.
New blood, however, will shake up CBS' remaining primetime schedule. The network's offering of rookie shows is as follows:
Thursdays, 10 p.m. EST
Set in Washington, D.C., this drama follows a brave group of CIA agents who risk life and limb in the name of national security. The series stars Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), as a no-holds-barred agent who's haunted by the mysterious death of his brother, and Will Patton (Remember the Titans), as the veteran agent who knows the truth about Bellows' sibling. Also stars David Clennon (thirtysomething) as a fraud expert and Paige Turco (Party of Five) as the determined rookie. Produced by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm).
"The Amazing Race"
Wednesdays, 9 p.m. EST
Think of it as Survivor unrestrained. Eleven teams, each comprised of two members, traverse the globe in a month-long competition to be the first to reach the final destination. The winning team nabs $1 million. But, alas, here's the catch: all team members must have a pre-existing personal relationship - be it family, friend or foe - adding some tension to the overall scheme. Executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon) and Bertram van Munster (Cops).
Fridays, 8:30 p.m. EST
In one of only two new sitcoms debuting on CBS in the fall, Daniel Stern (City Slickers) stars as a single father who operates a run-down community center populated with a diverse group of people. As the neighborhood ruffians learn lessons in life at the center - receiving guidance, playing sports and seeing tutors - Stern's character also learns what is important in life. Produced by Stern, Howard J. Morris (Home Improvement) and Michael Hanel (Titus).
Saturdays, 9 p.m. EST
James Cromwell (Babe) stars as a man who has spent his entire life as a success in the political arena - having served three terms in the Senate - until, in a shocking defeat, he loses his seat on Capitol Hill and is forced to return to civilian life. His three daughters timidly attempt to make the transition a smooth one, yet their own personal conflicts with other family members render the former senator's homecoming a nerve-racking affair. Produced by John Wells (ER), Lydia Woodward (China Beach) and Christopher Chulack (The West Wing).
"The Education of Max Bickford"
Sundays, 8 p.m. EST
Possibly the most creative of CBS' new dramas, Bickford delves into the bizarre life of college professor Max Bickford (Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss). Max is denied a promotion at work, is regularly stabbed in the back by the college president (Regina Taylor) and is forced to deal with the fact that his former best friend, Steve, is now a woman (Helen Shaver) named Erica. Executive produced by Nicole Yorkin (Judging Amy).
"The Ellen Show"
Fridays, 8 p.m. EST
Ellen DeGeneres returns to primetime TV as an overworked Internet executive who realizes that life in the slow lane is the way to go. Her solution? She moves back to her small hometown to live with her peculiar mother (Cloris Leachman) and sister (Emily Rutherfurd) - but will the pressures of living back at home outweigh the stresses of her previous life on the fast track? And is her former high school sweetheart moving back in on her? Produced by DeGeneres, Carol Leifer (Seinfeld) and Mitchell Hurwitz (The Golden Girls).
Tuesdays, 9 p.m. EST
Half legal drama, half a journey of self-discovery, Simon Baker (L.A. Confidential) plays Nick, a high-powered lawyer who, following a drug bust, is forced by the courts to work in a child advocacy office to set him straight. Though Nick is still determined to please his former legal clients, he slowly warms up to the children he's ordered to assist, shedding his cold exterior. Dabney Coleman (9 to 5) stars as Nick's stern father. Executive produced by Mark Johnson (Donnie Brasco) and Michael Pressman (Chicago Hope).
Wednesdays, 10 p.m. EST
This bizarre drama follows the investigation of a Bureau of Wildlife Management agent (Lou Diamond Phillips) obsessed with unlocking the mystery behind a rash of human disappearances in a Seattle suburb. His investigation centers upon a pack of wild wolves that can morph into human beings at will. Only one man-a Native American biology professor (Graham Greene)--knows the truth behind the supernatural creatures. Executive produced by John Leekley (Kindred: The Embraced) and Bernard Lechowick (Hyperion Bay).
As for returning shows with new time slots, four programs are being shuffled around. 60 Minutes II stays on Wednesdays, but will shown at 8 p.m. EST, not 9 p.m. EST, its current time slot. Another news magazine show, 48 Hours, will be shown on Fridays at 10 p.m. EST, a day later than its current home at 10 p.m. EST Thursdays. That's Life will jump back from Saturdays at 8 p.m. EST to Fridays at 9 p.m. EST. Finally, the family hit Touched by an Angel moves from Sundays at 8 p.m. EST to Saturdays at 8 p.m. EST.
Fox is expected to release its fall schedule sometime Thursday.