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 2012 Producer's Guild of America Awards are approaching, celebrating both Theatrical Motion Pictures and Long-Form Television with a new batch of nominees that the PGA has just released. Many of the films are no surprise—crossovers with the upcoming Golden Globes nominees abound. For theatrical motion picture include The Artist, The Descendants and Midnight in Paris; nominees for animated theatrical motion picture include Rango and The Adventures of Tintin.
The television nominees also offer some unsurprising names, including Mildred Pierce, Downton Abbey, Parks and Recreation, Boardwalk Empire,Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Colbert Report.
Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
Producer: Thomas Langmann
Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend
Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Producers: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green
Producers: Graham King, Martin Scorsese
THE IDES OF MARCH
Producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
Producers: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
The Producers Guild of America Producer of the Year Award in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Producers: Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
Producer: Denise Ream
KUNG FU PANDA 2
Producer: Melissa Cobb
PUSS IN BOOTS
Producers: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou
Producers: John B. Carls, Gore Verbinski
The Producers Guild of America Producer of the Year Award in Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Producers: Michael Rapaport, Edward Parks (*additional producers eligibility pending arbitration completion)
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Producer: Philip Gefter
Producer: Simon Chinn
Producer: James Gay-Rees
Producers: Cameron Crowe, Michelle Panek
The David L. Wolper Producer of the Year Award in Long-Form Television (Movies of the Week and Miniseries)
CINEMA VERITE (HBO)
Producers: Zanne Devine, Karyn McCarthy
DOWNTON ABBEY (Masterpiece) (PBS)
Producers: Julian Fellowes, Nigel Marchant, Gareth Neame
THE KENNEDYS (ReelzChannel)
Producers: Jon Cassar, Jonathan Koch, Stephen Kronish, Steve Michaels, Michael Prupas, Jamie Paul Rock, Joel Surnow
MILDRED PIERCE (HBO)
Producers: Todd Haynes, Pamela Koffler, Ilene S. Landress, Christine Vachon
TOO BIG TO FAIL (HBO)
Producers: Carol Fenelon, Jeffrey Levine, Paula Weinstein
The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:
30 ROCK (NBC)
Producers: Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Marci Klein, Jerry Kupfer, Lorne Michaels, David Miner, Jeff Richmond, John Riggi, Don Scardino
THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS)
Producers: Chuck Lorre, Steve Molaro, Faye Oshima, Bill Prady
Producers: Ian Brennan, Dante Di Loreto, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy, Kenneth Silverstein
MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
Producers: Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Jeffrey Richman, Dan O’Shannon, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker
PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC)
Producers: Greg Daniels, Dan Goor, Howard Klein, Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett, Michael Schur
The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
Producers: Eugene Kelly, Howard Korder, Stephen Levinson, Martin Scorsese, Rudd Simmons, Tim Van Patten, Terence Winter
Producers: Sara Colleton, John Goldwyn, Chip Johannessen, Robert Lloyd Lewis
GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
Producers: David Benioff, Frank Doelger, Mark Huffam, Carolyn Strauss, D.B. Weiss
THE GOOD WIFE (CBS)
Producers: Brooke Kennedy, Michelle King, Robert King, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, David W. Zucker
MAD MEN (AMC)
Producers: Jonathan Abrahams, Scott Hornbacher, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Blake McCormick, Dwayne Shattuck, Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television
THE COLBERT REPORT (Comedy Central)
Producers: Meredith Bennett, Stephen T. Colbert, Richard Dahm, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell, Jon Stewart (*additional producers eligibility pending arbitration completion)
THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW (Syndicated)
Producers: Mary Connelly, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Geiger Schrift, Ed Glavin, Andy Lassner, Kevin A. Leman II, Jonathan Norman, Derek Westervelt
REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER (HBO)
Producers: Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Marc Gurvitz, Dean Johnsen, Bill Maher, Billy Martin
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC)
Producers: Ken Aymong, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney
THE 64TH ANNUAL TONY AWARDS (CBS)
Producers: Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television
THE AMAZING RACE (CBS)
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo
AMERICAN IDOL (FOX)
Producers: Charles Boyd, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller, Patrick Lynn, Nigel Lythgoe, Megan Michaels, Ken Warwick
DANCING WITH THE STARS (ABC)
Producers: Ashley Edens Shaffer, Conrad Green, Joe Sungkur, Rob Wade
PROJECT RUNWAY (Lifetime)
Producers: Jane Cha Cutler, Desiree Gruber, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Jonathan Murray, Sara Rea, Colleen Sands
TOP CHEF (Bravo)
Producers: Daniel Cutforth, Casey Kriley, Jane Lipsitz, Dan Murphy, Nan Strait
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:
30 FOR 30 (ESPN)
Producers: John Dahl, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons
AMERICAN MASTERS (PBS)
Producers: Susan Lacy, Julie Sacks
ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS (Travel Channel)
Producers: Christopher Collins, Julie Lei, Lydia Tenaglia, Tom Vitale
DEADLIEST CATCH (Discovery Channel)
Producers: Thom Beers, Jeff Conroy, John Gray, Sheila McCormack, Ethan Prochnik, Bill Pruitt, Matt Renner
UNDERCOVER BOSS (CBS)
Producers: Chris Carlson, Susan Hoenig, Eli Holzman, Sandi Johnson, Stephen Lambert, Allison Schermerhorn
ANDERSON COOPER 360º (CNN)
BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA (BBC)
NBC NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS (NBC)
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW (MSNBC)
60 MINUTES (CBS)
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL (ESPN)
REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL (HBO)
SPORTS CENTER (ESPN)
30 FOR 30 (ESPN)
2010 FIFA WORLD CUP (ABC / ESPN / ESPN2)
U.S. OPEN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP (CBS / ESPN2 / Tennis Channel)
DORA THE EXPLORER (Nickelodeon)
PHINEAS AND FERB (Disney Channel)
SESAME STREET (PBS)
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (Nickelodeon)
ASK A NINJA (blip.tv)
THE GUILD (WatchTheGuild.com)
PARKS AND RECREATION PRESENTS: "APRIL AND ANDY'S ROAD TRIP" (NBC.com)
30 ROCK PRESENTS JACK DONAGHY, EXECUTIVE SUPERHERO (NBC.com)
WEB THERAPY (LStudio.com)
*These programs were not vetted for producer eligibility this year but winners in these categories will be announced at the official ceremony on January 21st.
Source: Producer's Guild
Making an earnest cinematic argument for the immortality of the soul and the existence of an afterlife without delving into mushy sentimentality is a difficult task for even the most gifted and “serious” of filmmakers. Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson discovered as much last year when his sappy grandiose adaptation of the ethereal bestseller The Lovely Bones opened to scathing reviews. Critics by and large tend to bristle at movie renderings of what may or may not await them in that Great Arthouse in the Sky.
And yet filmmakers seem determined to keep trying. The latest to make the attempt is Clint Eastwood who throughout his celebrated directorial career has certainly demonstrated a firm grasp of the death part of the equation. His filmography with a few notable exceptions practically revels in it: of his recent oeuvre Invictus is the only work that doesn’t deal with mortality in some significant manner. With his new film Hereafter Eastwood hopes to add immortality to his thematic resume.
The film's narrative centers on three characters each of whom has intimate experience with death and loss. Their stories in true Eastwood fashion can ostensibly be labeled Sad Sadder and Saddest: Marie (Cecile de France) is a French TV news anchor who’s haunted by disturbing flashbacks after she loses consciousness — and briefly her life — during a natural disaster; George (Matt Damon looking credibly schlubby) is a former psychic whose skills as a medium are so potent (the slightest touch from another human being triggers an instant powerful psychic connection a la Rogue from X-Men) they’ve left him isolated and alone; Marcus is a London schoolboy who retreats into a somber shell after losing his twin brother in a tragic car accident (both brothers are played rather impressibly by real-life twins Frankie and George McLaren).
Humanity offers little help to these troubled souls surrounding them with skeptics charlatans users and deadbeats none of whom are particularly helpful with crises of an existential nature. Luckily there are otherworldly options. Peter Morgan's script assumes psychics out-of-body experiences and other such phenomena to be real and legitimate but in a non-denominational Coast-to-Coast AM kind of way. Unlike Jackson’s syrupy CGI-drenched glimpses of the afterlife Eastwood’s visions of the Other Side are vague and eery — dark fuzzy silhouettes of the departed set against a white background. Only Damon’s character George seems capable of drawing meaning from them which is why he’s constantly sought out by grief-stricken folks desperate to make contact with loved ones who’ve recently passed on. He’s John Edward only real (and not a douche).
Marie and Marcus appear destined to find him as well but only as the last stop on wearisome circuitous and often heartbreaking spiritual journeys that together with George’s hapless pursuit of a more temporal connection (psychic ability it turns out can be a wicked cock-blocker) consume the bulk of Hereafter’s running time. We know the three characters’ paths must inevitably intersect but Morgan’s script stubbornly forestalls this eventuality testing our patience for nearly two ponderous and maudlin hours and ultimately building up expectations for a climax Eastwood can’t deliver at least not without sacrificing any hope of credulity.
It should be noted that Hereafter features a handful of genuinely touching moments thanks in great part to the film's tremendous cast. And its finale is refreshingly upbeat. Unfortunately it also feels forced and terribly unsatisfying. Eastwood an established master of all things tragic and forlorn struggles mightily to mount a happy ending. (Which in my opinion is much more challenging than a sad or ambiguous one.) After prompting us to seriously ponder life’s ultimate question Eastwood’s final answer seems to be: Don’t worry about it.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Carbon copying the already overly convoluted idea from the previous Final Destination movies the latest worst installment continues on the theme of one unlucky twentysomething being able to predict who’s going to die and when; this time it’s Nick. After attending a NASCAR race with his girlfriend Lori and their friends Hunt and Janet Nick has a premonition about an elaborate horrific accident that threatens everyone present. Naturally it comes true — and even though plenty of people die in the stands Death (you know the bogeyman) has only just begun. But Nick realizes that he might be able to save the survivors of that day by remembering the order in which they're supposed to die and warning them of their imminent demise. Unfortunately though not everyone believes him and they carry on with their dangerous activities ... like going to a hair salon or — gulp! — through a carwash.
WHO’S IN IT?
Up-and-coming actor Bobby Campo plays the main pretty young thing and he makes the best of what is ultimately an untenable and God-awful role to have to accept. Still fresh faces capable of pulling off his part are a dime a dozen and Destination’s past leads like Mary Elizabeth Winstead at least left us feeling their fear. Supporting actresses Shantel VanSanten as Lori and Haley Webb as Janet are there for little more than eye candy and ear-shredding screams while former MTV 'It' dude Nick Zano as the obnoxious clichéd — and obnoxiously clichéd — Hunt can’t even provide the occasional comic relief for which he was brought on. The lone bright spot comes courtesy of an evidently desperate-for-work Mykelti Williamson (aka Bubba in Forrest Gump) who plays a widowed security guard adding a shred of cred to the otherwise disposable cast (which includes a barely there Krista Allen).
Clocking in at a mercifully brisk hour and 15 minutes the makers of TFD find one way to not essentially call us stupid: They know we want our scares quickly and they deliver — except for actually scaring us. Aside from its running time the aforementioned credible performance by Williamson is literally all the movie has going for it.
Wow where to begin? Destination another in a loooong line of wholly unnecessary sequels is riddled with problems — from the are-you-kidding-me? “special” effects (even in 3-D) to the jaw-droppingly horrendous writing. Director David R. Ellis (helmer of the infinitely better Final Destination 2) should bear much of the blame. He seems uninterested in delivering anything that people go to the movies for; this Destination is nothing more than tenuously connected scenes of video-game-like deaths that try to one-up each other. And not one of the sequences is even mildly suspenseful or scary — just disturbing in the sense that some people will actually smirk in earnest at the cartoonishness of it all.
The writing though is the real culprit. Eric Bress’ (also an FD2 alum) script is incredibly unimaginative merely recycling similar but better executed scenarios from the three previous movies and swapping out the settings. With ideas so bad Bress makes it abundantly clear that there’s no inane death massacre left to explore at this point; it's basically a metaphorical surrender. And yet the dialogue is even worse — with stock stereotypical block characters muttering it to boot.
LEAST FAVORITE SCENE?
Not to completely give it away — lest we make the movie predictable! — but one of the death scenes is just so far beyond ridiculous that it transcends even sarcastic laughter. Hint: It involves water and it’s about midway through the movie … if you dare stay that long.
Even if you’re not a cinephile and you couldn’t care less about things like character depth and plot development and you’re looking for a very quick thrill The Final Destination is well beneath you. It makes recent straight-to-DVD releases look like fully coherent masterpieces. Whether in 3-D or 2-D it’s a mustn't-see!