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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
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.
In keeping with this week's American Film Market theme, following is a rundown of deals and announcements to hit over the past day.
Notably, Wild Bunch has boarded Nick Cassavetes' Yellow, which had previously encountered some financial woes. With a private American equity partner now in place, the film is set to start shooting again in December. Wild Bunch is handling international sales.
In a rather poignant twist, Cassavetes' wife, Heather Wahlquist, stars in the film, which could be described as a sort of lighter version of A Woman Under the Influence -- in which Cassavetes' mother, Gena Rowlands, starred for his father, John Cassavetes.
The cast also includes Sienna Miller, Melanie Griffith, Luke Wilson and Ben Foster.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has acquired domestic rights to The River Sorrow, as part of a deal that also saw the company pick up rights for the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, says The Hollywood Reporter.
The Rich Cowan film stars Ray Liotta, Ving Rhames, Christian Slater, Giselle Fraga, Raymond Barry, Sarah Ann Schultz and Melora Walters.
As expected, Chris Rock has beenconfirmed as the lead opposite Julie Delpy in her directorial follow up to 2 Days in Paris. 2 Days in New York is being sold by Rezo Films.
According to Screen, the film now finds Paris heroine Marion in New York with her child and a new guy. Rock plays the new boyfriend, a radio host and journalist whose life will be upended by a two-day visit from Marion's French family.
Also per Screen, WestEnd Films will handle international rights on The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Justin Timberlake is scoring and supervising music for the film, which stars Zach Braff, Jessica Biel and Chloe Moretz.
Bill Purple directs the story of Henry, whose world is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a tragic accident. In an attempt to overcome his grief, Henry befriends a young homeless girl and helps her accomplish her dream of building a raft to cross the Atlantic to find her long-lost father.
Principal photography starts in April 2011.
Christophe Honore is back with a film starring Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Ludivine Sagnier, Louis Garrel, Milos Forman and Paul Schneider. Les Biens-Aimees, which Screen describes as a Jacques Demy-style musical drama, is being sold internationally by Celluloid Dreams.
Lucy Walker's hot doc Countdown to Zero has sold to Paramount Pictures for Japan, says The Hollywood Reporter. The Works International is repping the Lawrence Bender produced film which premiered at Sundance and had a screening in Cannes.
Korea's CJ Entertainment has sold US rights to The Man from Nowhere to Well Go USA, Screen further reports.
IFC Midnight has taken US rights to psychological thriller Choose. SC Films is repping the film internationally. IFC Midnight plans a theatrical release in 2011 for the Marcus Graves genre film Screen says is in the vein of Seven and The Silence of the Lambs.
Magnet Releasing, the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures, has picked up US rights to Thai action movie BKO: Bangkok Knockout, adds THR.
The film is directed by Panna Rittkrai and centers on a group of friends who have to fight for their lives with one of their own is kidnapped.
Finally, Deadline reports that Myriad Pictures has acquired offshore rights to the Vivi Friedman-directed comedy The Family Tree. Pic stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Selma Blair, Christina Hendricks, Max Thieriot, Jane Seymour, Rachael Leigh Cook and Bow Wow. Davis plays a restless housewife who bumps her head during an illicit encounter with her next-door neighbor and loses her memory. Myriad is shopping at the AFM. IP Advisors is brokering North American rights.
Source: Hollywood Wiretap
All the glamorous Catherine Zeta-Jones has to do is tap her heels three times and, just like that, she's returning to her humble homeland of Wales to do the independent film Coming Out. Under the direction of another Welshwoman, Sara Sugarman, Zeta-Jones will produce and star in the film about a Welsh rugby team whose coach unexpectedly dies. Their only hope is to rely on the deceased coach's gay son to "choreograph them to victory." But don't think Zeta-Jones is bowing out of the limelight forever. Oh, no, she wants that Oscar. So, Zeta-Jones also will star with her equally famous husband Michael Douglas in Smoke and Mirrors. The period drama follows the efforts of a French 19th century illusionist, along with his female sidekick, to expose a sorcerer who is inciting anti-colonial revolution. Production will start mid-fall.
Roberts' Atlantic crossing
Julia Roberts, following the leads of Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones's Diary) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Sliding Doors), will most likely have to take some serious dialect lessons to perfect a British accent for a new untitled film (the one she had in Mary Reilly doesn't count). She will take on the real-life role of a Yorkshire woman whose murder led police on one of their biggest manhunts, followed by one of the most controversial miscarriages of justice in the United Kingdom. Roberts will play Wendy Sewell, whose gravitation towards elicit sex gained her the nickname "The Bakewell Tart," London's The Observer reports. Sewell was murdered in 1973. Maintaining his innocence, 17-year-old Tim Downing was convicted of killing Sewell. Local newspaper editor Don Hale spent six years trying to clear the young man's name. Interesting. Let's see what the Oscar-winning actress dishes up.
Hallstrom and DiCaprio play "Catch"
Speaking of more true stories, director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat) is in final negotiations to direct DreamWorks' Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio, who certainly has taken the heat off himself in the last few years, attached to star. This is based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., the only teen to ever make the FBI's 10 most wanted list for impersonating several hundred different people and writing bad checks between 1964 and 1966. Abagnale Jr. passed himself off as a Pan Am copilot, a chief resident pediatrician and an assistant attorney general. He had written $6 million in bad checks in all 50 states and 26 foreign countries by the time he was caught. That's one busy bee. And with Hallstrom and DiCaprio together again, after their other quirky but compelling film What's Eating Gilbert Grape (DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar), Catch might one to watch out for.
Allen looking at the stars … again
Hey, why mess with a good thing? Tim Allen is no dummy. After his success in 1999's comedy hit Galaxy Quest, Allen is in talks to star in Paramount Pictures' comedy StarChild, about another romp with aliens--Roswell aliens, to be exact. A socially challenged CIA agent is assigned the task of getting a young Roswell alien back home before interplanetary war erupts on Earth. Peter Segal (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) will direct. Think about this one carefully, Tim.
"I know nuuuth-ting!"
But we do. Looks like the brainy fellows at Revolution Studios have decided to bring the wacky and popular '60s and '70s TV sitcom Hogan Heroes to the big screen. We'll get to see all the shenanigans of Hogan (maybe Tim Allen should think about this one instead) and his oddball band of World War II POWs, as they run an underground Allied base of operations at the camp while pulling a fast one on the incompetent Col. Klink and his sidekick, Sgt. Schultz (Chris Farley would have been great). And why not? The studios haven't completely tapped out the arsenal of old TV shows as possible movie material. Ironically, the original series' star, Bob Crane, is having his own life brought to the big screen by director Paul Schrader. The film, Auto-Focus, highlights the sordid details of Crane's life after Heroes that ultimately led to his brutal murder in 1978.
Court TV makes movies
Court TV, which owes its popularity to the sensational trials of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, has decided on its first original movie. It is a project on the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, during which four black girls were killed. The case made headlines recently when an Alabama jury convicted Thomas Blanton of the crime. Blanton is the second man brought to justice in this case after the 1977 conviction of Robert Chambliss. Tentatively titled A Bombing in Birmingham, production will start in the late summer for a 2002 airing. Not sure, though, if anyone can outdo Spike Lee's extraordinary Oscar-nominated documentary on the same subject, 4 Little Girls. That's a hard act to follow.
The power of three
Indie gal-pals Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk will star in Enter Fleeing for writer/director Rebecca Miller. Based on Miller's collection of short stories, Personal Velocity, the film tells the tale of three women-Greta (Posey), Delia (Sedgwick) and Paula (Balk)-who each struggle to flee from the men who confine their personal freedom. Sounds like the ultimate chick flick--an empowering chick flick, the best kind. Shooting begins this week in New York.
Rap Queen large and in charge
Rap singer/actress/talk show host Queen Latifah is in negotiations to star and executive produce the comedy In the Houze for Disney and Hyde Park Entertainment. A man takes to the Internet to find a date but ends up embarking on an online relationship with a convict (Latifah) who makes up several stories about herself. When she's finally released, she seeks out the guy and wreaks havoc on his upper-middle-class life. This will mark the versatile Latifah's first starring role in a film, having played mostly supporting characters in films like The Bone Collector and Living Out Loud.