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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Grand Theft Auto V obliterated records, selling $800 million in its first 24 hours and over $1 billion within its first three days, becoming the fast-selling entertainment product of all time. It would only make sense to turn the already movie-like game into an actual movie. If film studios are already five steps ahead of me and a script is in development, we'd love to help you out with the casting process. Each of the three main characters is so distinct and colorful that they'd be dream parts for actors. Here are our casting picks for Michael, Franklin, and Trevor.
Michael De Santa
Michael De Santa is a former bank robber turned family man. Before a bank heist gone wrong, he led a long life of crime that included everything from narcotics smuggling to starting his own prostitution racket. His partner in crime was Trevor Philips, another main character in the game, but they grew apart as Michael started a family. After the disastrous bank job, Michael and his family entered witness protection and started new lives, getting rich in the process. His current life is far from satisfying, however, since his wife and kids don't show him much respect. When he meets Franklin Clinton, he reenters the crime world and reunites with his old partner, Trevor, but their new dynamic is less than collaborative. Michael is constantly torn between being a good guy for his family and being tempted to unleash his homocidal side as a criminal. His therapist says he is "addicted to chaos."
To fill Michael's role, the actor needs to be able to play both a convincing tough-guy criminal and a dejected father and husband going through a mid-life crisis. Someone around 45, a little on the heavy side, with authoritative screen presence. Ray Liotta, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, and Alec Baldwin would all fit this category perfectly. They have all played criminals and gangsters in their careers, while Liotta and Baldwin can easily turn on their sensitive sides as the worn-out family man. Each one is a seasoned actor who can convey the complexities and nuances of such a torn man. Plus, they all fit the bill in terms of physical appearance. It all comes down to whose husky voice the director prefers.
This guy's name sounds like an intersection in deep Brooklyn, but he's a gangbanger from the Los Angeles-inspired fictional city of Los Santos. Franklin had a tough upbringing in South Los Santos, getting involved with street gangs and dealing drugs from a young age. After going to prison for dealing, he decides to move up in the criminal underworld upon his release. When he meets Armenian gangster Simeon Yetarian, Franklin becomes a repo man for his loansharking and extortion business. And when Franklin meets Michael, he gets even deeper into crime.
Franklin is younger than the other two characters, at about 25 years old. He's confident, ambitious, and street-smart. Some actors we'd like to see try out for the role of Franklin are Brian White, Cory Hardrict, Chris Brown, and Columbus Short. Brian White has incredible range as an actor and can pull off just about any role, and judging by his performance as an underground street fighter in Fighting, we know he can pull off tough-guy Franklin. Even though he's best known as a musician, Chris Brown was a natural in Takers, in which he played a cocky bank robber. And Hardrict and Short are under-the-radar candidates who could explode onto the scene if they deliver strong performances.
Trevor's character is the most exciting to cast out of the three, simply because he is pretty much insane. From an early age, Trevor has dealt with rage issues and violent impulses, which could largely be a result of his abusive father. As an adult, he discovers a knack for robbery, and when he meets Michael, they become heist partners. The two also become close friends, and they have a successful heist run until that fateful job. When Trevor and Michael are reunited years later, it appears that their friendship does not survive the time apart, and they continuously argue throughout the game's missions.
Finding an actor who can nail such an unhinged and unpredictable character might be a challenge, but luckily we have Nicolas Cage. Cage is synonymous with unhinged. And if he were to be paired up with someone like Baldwin or Liotta, the buzz surrounding the movie would be deafening. Other actors to consider include Billy Bob Thornton, who can easily do crazy redneck, Elias Koteas, who was downright chilling as arsonist Andrew Laeddis in Shutter Island, and Kim Coates, who oozes sleaze and has seen his fair share of violence on Sons of Anarchy.
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.