When you hear that a cinematic favorite is getting a sequel, you're bound to entertain a conflict of emotions: "Man, I'd love a sequel, but I really hope it'll be as good as the first." Immediately following the moreover acceptable follow-up there is talk of expanding to a trilogy, making you slip a bit deeper onto the negative side: "I'm not sure a third movie can live up to second, let alone first. But I suppose I'm game..." And another: "Gee, the third wasn't that good. Maybe they should just call it quits." And another: "Oh come on. Let this thing die already." Sixteen years later, another: "Seriously? They're bringing this franchise back? What about the legacy? What about preservation of a classic? What are these people thinking?" And finally, another: "Hell yeah, I'll see that! Hey, it can't get be any worse than the last four." This is the legacy of Rocky Balboa, a character who is getting a seventh movie — you'd better believe it — in an upcoming spin-off titled Creed.
Deadline reports that the film will center on Apollo Creed's grandson, a young man who has grown up reaping the benefits of his namesake's fame and now wishes to enter the boxing game on his own accord. But how will he do it? By seeking the help of the only boxing trainer worth his salt: Robert Balboa Sr. himself. Sylvester Stallone is set to reprise his character, with rising-at-a-rapid-rate star Michael B. Jordan to play the young Creed. Jordan's Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler is poised to helm the new feature.
Considering the terrific creation that was Coogler and Jordan's Fruitvale, we can set hopes just high enough to be excited for Creed. The director's style suggests a far more naturalistic and gritty entry than any of the last few Rocky films, returning us to the earnest story of the Philly boy with no hope, no class, and no discernible linguistic skills. With the distinct themes inherent in the privileged Creed's wishes to earn something all his own, we won't necessarily be seeing a rehashing of the Rocky story from the ground up, but a new story built in the same colorful world. An exciting prospect no doubt. And one, like all things Balboa, that calls for our favorite musical celebration:
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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.
Top Story: Will & Grace's Morrison Charged
Best known as the sharp-tongued maid Rosario on NBC's Will & Grace, actress Shelley Morrison, who was arrested April 23 for allegedly trying to steal costume jewelry valued at $446 from a Los Angeles department store, will not be charged with a felony, the L.A. County District Attorney told Reuters. Even though the amount is officially over the cutoff of $400, authorities have decided to charge the 66-year-old actress with a misdemeanor. Alleged theft amounts are "generally upwards to $1,000 before we start considering felony prosecution," District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons told Reuters. Morrison's lawyer, Donald Etra, told Reuters his client was "relieved and gratified that she is not being charged with a felony." He added: "At this point, she stands innocent." Morrison was released on $20,000 bail and her arraignment is set for May 14.
Tribeca Film Festival Picks Eclectic Group to Judge
The 2nd annual Tribeca Film Festival has decided to pick a varying group to judge their films in competition. According to The Associated Press, the list includes Queen Noor of Jordon; filmmaker Michael Moore; actresses Whoopi Goldberg and Candice Bergen; documentarian Barbara Kopple; Traffic screenwriter Stephen Gaghan; fashion designer Miuccia Prada; Sheila Nevins, vice president of HBO and Cinemax, and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. The festival runs May 3-11.
AMPAS Honors Director Vincente Minnelli
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present a program tonight in tribute to the late Vincente Minnelli, City News Service reports, to honor the centennial of the director's birth. Minnelli directed such classic musicals as Gigi and Meet Me in St. Louis and films such as the original Father of the Bride and Lust for Life. Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse and Kirk Douglas, each of whom starred in Minnelli's films, are scheduled to participate in the program.
Actor Conaway Sues Las Vegas Hotel
Actor Jeff Conaway, co-star of the hit '80s show Taxi, has sued the Las Vegas hotel Mandalay Bay, claiming security guards broke his arm in June 2002 when he was staying there. According to AP, Conaway had been gambling in the establishment but, after awhile, was repeatedly told he was not allowed to continue to gamble. When the 52-year-old actor asked to speak to a supervisor, he was surrounded by security guards who "viciously, and without provocation ... violently slammed him to the floor of the casino," AP reports the suit claims. Officials from the hotel had no comment.
Mr. T Wants Some Respect
In more legal news, Mr. T, aka Laurence Tureaud, slapped a lawsuit against Best Buy Co., Inc., claiming the nation's largest electronics company used a likeness of him in a print ad without his permission, AP reports. The suit claims the ads are devaluing a "unique persona that (he) developed for (more than) 20 years and is of great economic value to him." The 52-year-old actor of the hit '80s TV series The A-Team is seeking unspecified damages.
Michael Jackson's Home Videos a Ratings Dud
Apparently, no one wants to see Michael Jackson's attempts at being normal. According to AP, the Fox special Michael Jackson's Home Videos did poorly when it aired last Thursday, only snagging 7.8 million viewers. This pales in comparison to the 27.1 million people who tuned in last February to watch British journalist Martin Bashir's interview with the self-proclaimed King of Pop.
Great White Will Do Benefit Tour
Surviving members of the metal rock band Great White will do a nationwide tour to raise money for the families of the victims who died in a tragic club fire Feb. 20. "Their thoughts from the beginning have been, 'What are we going to do to help the victims?' And the only thing they do is perform," Great White's attorney Ed McPherson told AP. The band's guitarist Ty Longley was among the 99 people who were killed when pyrotechnics ignited the roof of the Rhode Island club.
Music Industry Continues Fight Against Piracy
The record industry continued their war against online piracy when an instant message went out Tuesday warning hundreds of thousands of users of the song-swapping Internet sites Grokster and Kazaa that they could be "easily" identified and face "legal penalties" for their actions, Reuters reports. Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America told Reuters millions more will get notices in coming weeks.
Role Call: Crow 4 on the Way, Dunst Gets Mushy at Wimbledon
Dimension Films has decided to resurrect the Crow franchise. According to The Hollywood Reporter, David Boreanaz, Edward Furlong, Dennis Hopper and Tara Reid will star in Wicked Prayer, the fourth installment of the supernatural series about the afterlife and retribution…On the lighter side, Kirsten Dunst and A Beautiful Mind's Paul Bettany will star in the romantic comedy Wimbledon. AP reports the film revolves around a nearly washed up British tennis player (Bettany), who gets into Wimbledon and falls for an up-and-coming American tennis player (Dunst).