Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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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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The world's funniest baby will soon be welcomed into the world.
Anna Faris and husband Chris Pratt are expecting their first child in the fall. Faris, whose latest project is The Dictator, and Pratt, who stars on Parks and Recreation married in 2009 and have often said they'd like to start a family. Their rep confirmed the new to People.
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If given the option of spending Saturday night at the hottest club in town or a Bar Mitzvah, most of us would pick the club. Judging from the new videos released by Nicki Minaj and Drake, we'd all be wrong.
"Beez in the Trap," the new single off of Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded has all the makings of a fun party video: disco balls, a confetti-strewn dance floor, and plenty of jiggling to the music. However, the barbed wire, slow-motion dance shots, and Minaj's hypnotic dance in leopard catsuit that doesn't leave much to the imagination give the video a decidedly gloomy tone. The video captures the feeling of replaying a particularly debaucherous night in your head as you're being hauled from the club in a squad car at 4 a.m. (not that we have much experience with that scenario).
The term "Bar Mitzvah" might conjure up images of cheesy local cover bands and getting your cheek pinched by grandma, but when it's Drake throwing the Bar Mitzvah, things are totally different. Following an adorable home movie of Drake's actual coming of age ceremony, the video for "HYFR" takes us to his re-Bar Mitzvah last fall. The surprisingly raucous party that breaks out after the ceremony involves a Torah photo cake, Lil Wayne in a panda hat, and what has to be the most exuberant hora dance ever. The only bad thing about this video is that Drake's set the bar way to high for parties thrown by 13-year-olds.
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Ever since Rihanna was spotted exiting Ashton Kutcher's home at 4 AM last week, everyone's been wondering if the unlikely pair have been hooking up. It's the kind of tawdry, tabloidy question that would usually be fielded by their reps, but at a London press conference for Rihanna's film Battleship, one brave (or possibly dumb) reporter tried to catch her off guard. After a long and flattering intro, the reporter asked the pop star if Kutcher might be visiting her overseas. "Wow, how disappointing was that question," Rihanna snapped back. "I'm happy and I'm single, if that's what you're really asking."
That should nip this story in the bud, but if Rihanna's lying about her love life, this wouldn't be the first time. Or the second, or even the third. After photos first surfaced of Rihanna and Chris Brown kissing and vacationing together, she insisted they were "just good friends," for months. After their split, she denied she was seeing Drake, but eventually admitted they had a fling. Then in 2010 when cameras caught her canoodling with Matt Kemp, she issued this suspiciously familiar denial: “I’m still single, if that’s what you really want to ask!” Later that year she gushed to Ryan Seacrest, "He's my boyfriend!" Of course, Rihanna has every right to tell us to butt out when it comes to her love life, but don't be too surprised if you see her Tweeting sweet nothings to Kutcher in a few weeks.
[Radar, E!, DimeWars, The Boom Box, E!]