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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One of the best parts of any awards shows is seeing the reactions of the different nominees. How do the winners handle being honored for their work? Do they walk on stage a complete blubbering mess, or do they stride up to the front of the room with bravado and give a fantastic speech? How do the losing nominees handle seeing that golden statue ripped from their grasp? When there are hundreds of cameras trained on their every facial twitch, there are bound to be some pretty great reaction shots. Here are our top 10 faces and reactions from Emmy winners, losers, and presenters.
Vanessa Williams is cool. I mean, she's just way too cool to be joking around at an award show when she's about to get an Emmy. She's a diva, people! So when Amy Poehler and company devised the goofy gag of wearing various pieces of eyewear while the nominees were being announced, Williams tastefully declined with a look that's a combination of "Hell no am I getting involved with this l foolishness!" and "Where's my Emmy?" while shaking her head dismissively at the camera. She ended up losing to Kristin Chenoweth (at least she went home without wearing an eye patch).
Speaking of Chenoweth, her scrunched up face and acceptance speech after her win for Pushing Daisies was simply adorable. Her pixie-like excitement and crocodile tears are just to much to bear. Lines like "I'm unemployed now, so I would like to be on Mad Men" just make the clip even better.
Okay so this moment wasn't at the actual awards show, but it's close enough. If you have a pulse, and you've watched at least five minutes of any given episode of Breaking Bad, then you already love Aaron Paul and his character Jesse Pinkman. But someone as likeable as Paul can surprise you time and time again. During the announcement ceremony for the 2013 Emmys, when Paul learned that he has secured yet another Emmy nomination (8:44 in the video), his face contorted into such childlike glee that his excitement is infectious. The fact that he can get so excited over an award he already has won twice before is very endearing.
In her Emmy win in 2007 for Brothers and Sisters, Sally Fields launched into a tribute to mothers around the globe. With a face full of conviction and passion, she speaks out against war and says the controversial line, "Let's face it. If the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamned war in the first place!”
Let me give you a little backstory first. Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell have had a bit of a rivalry ever since Carell hilariously "stole" Gervais' Emmy the year before. Now cut to 2008, when Gervais demanded his Emmy back and began to tear into Carell with jokes. Even while everyone else in the theater, including Carell's wife, was collapsing back into their chairs with giggle fits, Carell retained his stony visage, never breaking. He could probably withstand the harshest of tortures. Eventually he relinquished the Emmy, but only after fierce comical prodding by Gervais.
After proving to be a comedy workhouse on Malcom in the Middle for six years, it seemed Bryan Cranston would never get the recognition he deserves by the Emmys. Just how many scenes of a man prancing in his underwear does it take to get an Emmy these days anyway? Luckily, Cranston continued taking off his pants in his next show Breaking Bad, enough times, in fact, to finally secure him the Emmy. When he does win, Cranston's look of surprise and graditude is heartwarming.
When Greg Garcia won an Emmy for his hilarious sitcom My Name Is Earl, he used his short time on stage to its fullest, and gave a triumphant up-yours to everyone who ever doubted him, insulted his intelligence, or made him scrape gum off their shoes throughout his rise to sitcom greatness. Even God almighty doesn't escape his comedic wrath.
It's nice to see an actress with as much award recognition as Kate Winslet get so excited about winning an award, as she didwhen she won for her performance in Mildred Pierce. When Winslet heard her name, she jumped up and down and sported a face full of genuine excitement.
Winning an Emmy would be a massive achievement for some people, but Andy Samberg looked like he was confused as to why he was even invited to the ceremony at all. When Samberg and The Lonely Island Crew won an Emmy for "Dick in a Box," he put on his best grin and went on to poke fun at the entire award show with hefty amounts of sarcasm that probably just rubbed salt in the wounds of people who actually really wanted win.
Having to watch Jon Stewart win the Emmy for Best Variety Show year after year must be tough, and in 2012, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert finally hit their breaking point. The two hosts tackled Stewart and tried their best to stop him from reaching the stage in a funny bit of physical comedy. When Stewart finally reached the stage to accept his golden prize, he looked like he just ran a marathon in a tuxedo. His face was visibly winded when he said (at 1:19 in the video), "I'm not in the kind of shape I should be in to do a bit with Jimmy Fallon."
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Writer/director David Koepp's previous efforts as a screenwriter have helped define modern blockbuster movies. Jurassic Park Mission: Impossible Spider-Man — films that put the "big" in big screen. As a director he's taken the same sensibilities and applied them to narrower fields of vision with intimate spins on horror and comedy in movies like Secret Window and Ghost Town. His latest Premium Rush fits the same bill; an immersive chase thriller set in the off-beat world of biker culture the movie has its simple goals and executes them with a wink-wink attitude. It's a summer action movie through and through but with sensibilities that make it fresh and quirky. In the doldrums of August it's exactly the rush one needs.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee a law-student-turned-bike-messenger who lives for the thrills of a speedy ride. During one run-of-the-mill pick-up at Columbia University Wilee finds himself in the crosshairs of corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). Inside the envelope Wilee's been hired to delver to Chinatown is something Detective Monday needs and he's willing to do anything to get it. No skin off Wilee's nose — he has an address and a delivery time and like a good messenger he's equally driven to make the drop.
Premium Rush quickly kicks off its extended action set piece and never lets up Koepp only occasionally stepping back in time to unravel backstory and up the stakes. Wilee's girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) also a bike messenger is the roommate of Nima (Jamie Chung) a Chinese student who is shipping the sealed MacGuffin downtown. For her it's life or death and Koepp wisely underplays the motivations both to downplay its over-the-top nature and keep the stunts in focus. Monday has his own issues to contend with and it gives Shannon the perfect material to chew up. Before chasing Wilee Monday suffers from a gambling and violence problem and while it drives the character to pursue the package it's really just a great excuse for Shannon to go absolutely bonkers. Somewhere beyond Nic Cage and Al Pacino exists Shannon's turn and it's a hoot.
Gordon-Levitt balances him out as an engaging presence even while zipping through gridlocks and shifting his eyes for "Bike-O-Vision" (Wilee's accident-avoiding stylized Spidey sense). He spends most of his time interchanged with professional bike riders who make the two-wheeled maneuvers work but it's seamless. After an hour and a half of bikes pop-a-wheeling over taxis skidding under semi-trailer trucks and pulling off cycle parkour in a multileveled NYPD impound the action tends to get a bit repetitive — how much can you do on a bike? — but Koepp's kinetic directing keeps the movie zippy and the tone loose. Wilee's entire adventure feels like one big trick. Thankfully it avoids the crash and burn.
For nearly 100 years experts in historical and literary fields have been debating the authenticity of William Shakespeare's master works. Was he really a storytelling genius who single-handedly crafted a vast body of poems and plays? Or were they actually the works of another unnamed author? Could a group of playwrights have written under a sole moniker? Director Roland Emmerich dives headfirst into this century-old debate with his new movie Anonymous piecing together evidence to unravel the mystery with dramatic flair. Unfortunately the only thing he discovers in the process is that the answers aren't that interesting.
The movie centers on Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans) a scholarly gentleman forced as a youngster into the role of Earl of Oxford. While Edward prefers to spend his time waxing poetically and bringing theatrics to life for the adoring Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) his caretaker the sinister mustache-twirling-without-a-mustache William Cecil (David Thewlis) authoritatively directs him on the path of the aristocracy. But that doesn't stop De Vere from toiling over his written work spending years crafting plays and poems in-between canoodling with the Queen (for shame!).
As a grown man De Vere finds himself married off to Cecil's daughter battling the tired advisor and his hunchback son (Edward Hogg) all while continuing to write and attend the common man's theater. During one such excursion the Earl crosses paths with playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) who De Vere sees as the perfect representative to take ownership over his plays hoping they can finally be brought to life on stage. Of course Johnson realizes slapping his name on De Vere's works of genius would put the kibosh on his own career so he hands them over to his horny drunk actor friend William t (Rafe Spall). The staged plays are a hit but their appeal to the masses is a red flag to the court. Cecil commences a hunt for the true author of Shakespeare's plays landing De Vere in hot water.
Emmerich intertwines De Vere Johnson and Shakespeare's quest for theatrical fame with political unrest and romantic subplots but none of the story arcs have the spark of a real mystery/thriller. The director and his screenwriter John Orloff (The Guardians of Ga'hoole) aim to replicate The Bard's tragic character-driven plays with their own story relying on performance and dense dialogue to entrance the viewer. But Emmerich goes so far out of his way to restrain himself from his usual eye for end-of-the-world destruction (made famous in Independence Day Godzilla The Day After Tomorrow 2012…) that the movie trudges along without an ounce of intrigue. It's almost as if Anonymous strives to be purposefully boring Emmerich attempting to deliver performance-first directing but ending up with string of flat sloth-paced back-and-forths. He does manage to squeeze a few action scenes into the mix—De Vere fends off an attacker in a thrilling confined swordfight—but even the bigger moments feel muted.
The creative duo's grounded tactics do occasionally payoff thanks to a solid cast led by powerhouse thespian Ifans. Anonymous luxuriates in Elizabethan history and royal affairs presented in a fashion only a few steps up from your run-of-the-mill high school text book but Ifans steps in and turns hammy exposition into lyrical dialogue. While he doesn't have the power to make it all register Ifans makes the experience of Anonymous worth seeing and hearing. One transcendent moment shows De Vere crumbling in front of his wife explaining his instinctual need to write. The monologue is powerful—but the surroundings created by Emmerich fail to support him.
The rest of the ensemble does their best to wrangle our attentions—the legendary Vanessa Redgrave as the older repressed Queen Elizabeth and Spall's lively arrogant Shakespeare are standouts—but the lingering question of "why does this matter?" continually stands in the film's way. The works of William Shakespeare are a foundation for the dramatic arts a staple of literary education and a testament to the power of written word. After 500 years his plays continue to be relevant embodying the full spectrum of human emotion. So it's understandable why Roland Emmerich would embark on an expansive blockbuster dissection behind the truth of these achievements. But Anonymous only manages to present plausible events never tackling the weight of those accusations dead on. Going head to head with The Bard should live up to the existing body of work. Anonymous on the other hand feels abridged.