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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When Warner Bros. started making movies out of the Harry Potter books, we all knew we’d have to accept that some our favorite parts may not make the final cut. It’s completely understandable that when movie-makers cut the books down into films that the extremely complex world loses some of the details, but that doesn’t mean we all don’t have a laundry list of things we wish didn’t hit the cutting room floor.
Before I dive into this list, I want to preface it with the fact that these are just my top 10 and that J.K. Rowling herself has been involved with the film-making process. I’d wager to say that no one can claim the ultimate list of Potter things skipped, because there are just far too many remarkable moments in the books. That said, these are my top 10 missing things, but I’m sure there are hundreds of other amazing bits from the 4,175 page saga that didn’t make it either.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone: Hermione's potions challenge before Harry confronts Professor Quirrell
In the movie, Hermione stays behind with Ron after he’s knocked out playing wizard chess and tells Harry to go ahead, pausing to tell him what a great wizard he is. Luckily, her speech about Harry is taken right from the book. The part that is missing is the potions challenge that follows Wizard’s Chess. In the book, Hermione continues on with Harry and solves a logic puzzle that helps her choose the right potion to get through a wall of black fire from a slew of bottles that include poison and wine; she does this all using logic, not magic. It’s that distinction that makes the scene important. Hermione comes from Muggle parents and developed some very practical skills that the wizard-born kids haven’t yet honed. Plus, it promotes the idea that magic can’t solve every problem and grounds Potter’s Wizarding World in a bit of reality. It’s also a short piece and it really wouldn’t have added much length to the film’s runtime. In other words, there’s no excuse.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone: Dumbledore’s Insight on Death
When Dumbledore explains to Harry that the destruction of the Sorcerer’s Stone means ultimate death for the previously immortal Nicholas Flemel, he also explains that, "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In the film, this single line and sentiment is completely and unnecessarily eradicated. While I’m sure they took it out because it’s a rather mature concept, I don’t agree with its removal. If kids are mature enough to read lines like that in J.K. Rowling’s books, then they can hear lines like that in the film. Plus, it truly sets the tone for the entire series. Harry has to cope with the death of his parents every day and very heavily throughout the first book. As he grows and the war with Voldemort approaches, he has to come to terms with the death of friends and fellow wizards again and again and again. It’s just a single line, but it’s actually integral to the entire series. (Plus, Rowling has Harry repeat it to Ron and Hermione after he talks to Dumbledore, which only increases the case for its effect on Harry’s development.)
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets: Nearly Headless Nick's Death Day
This little vignette is completely missing in the film adaptation. In the book, Harry, Hermione and Ron are invited to Nearly Headless Nick’s Death Day celebration and Harry attends in lieu of going to the school feast. The scene gives us a glimpse into the surprisingly human interactions between the Hogwarts ghosts. Nearly Headless Nick is ridiculed and left out of the headless hunt because he’s only nearly headless, and it weighs on him. While it’s a great deal of silly fun, the scene is also important because it’s one of the points when Harry really gets it. In the first book he forms great friendships with Ron and Hermione and he learns a lot about magic, but he’s still pretty much a deer in headlights. When he reaches this point, he finally sees that these strange people whose world he’s still very new to are actually human despite their supernatural eccentricities. And just as Harry has this realization, it’s solidified for the reader as well.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Winky the House Elf
Winky was the house elf for the Crouch family and is magically tied to Barty Crouch Jr. (a convicted Death Eater). At the Quidditch World Cup, she is with him when he escapes to the woods to send the Dark Mark into the sky. He stuns her and leaves her alone as he flees and Winky is blamed for the Dark Mark. Barty Crouch Sr. eventually frees her in order to clear his family of blame for the Dark Mark, but it’s his rash mistreatment of the house elf that drives her to become a drunk and eventually inspires Hermione to create S.P.E.W. which was also left out of the films. (I’ll get to that.) Winky definitely complicates the plot, but once again her presence brings a measure of humanity to the creatures of the magical world and elevates their status from little more than cartoon characters. Characters like Winky lend depth to the books and the concept as a whole and by leaving them out, the films really lack that element.
Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: The Sphinx Challenge in the Maze
Missing from the film version of the maze in the Triwizard Tournament is Harry’s encounter with the sphinx. Harry solves the sphinx’s complex riddle which allows him to get closer to the Goblet faster than everyone else without using any spells. The scene is another short one that could easily have been included. It’s an introspective moment and it works to deepen Harry’s character. Something the films do far too often is dump Harry, Hermione, and Ron into categories: The hero, the brain, and the lovable screw-up, respectively. This scene is one that really brings out Harry’s intelligence and ability to think on his feet and it would have served to create a richer depiction of Harry instead of leaving us with the “broad strokes” style hero the films seem to promote.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix: Hermione creates SPEW
As I mentioned, this is tied to Winky’s absent storyline and is absolutely nowhere in the films. I can resign to the fact that they probably didn’t have time to really delve into the creation and promotion of SPEW (The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare), but they could have at least weaved in a few references – like perhaps a badge on her robe and a few lines mentioning her role as founder? In the books, the concept does get fairly complex but it wouldn’t have been too difficult to include a simplified reference. Once again, it’s integral to the way Rowling builds Hermione’s character and its absence takes away a piece of her personality.
Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix: Nearly Headless Nick's Talk with Harry After Sirius' Death
After the battle at the Ministry of Magic, Harry finds Nick hoping to learn that he won’t have to live without his Godfather after all. Thinking that since Nick came back as a ghost that Sirius will too, he asks Nick about how wizards can become ghosts. Nick replies simply, saying that Sirius won’t return as a ghost. He then explains the idea of choosing “a feeble imitation of life” like Nick did instead of accepting death. This, like Dumbledore’s quote from book one furthers the idea of accepting death, something the Harry has to come to terms with again and again throughout the series. (This second lack of Nearly Headless Nick also underlines the fact that he seems to be missing from the movies, post-Prisoner of Azkaban. Not only is Nearly Headless Nick a great character, but any excuse to see John Cleese in a movie is okay in my book.)
Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix: Neville's Parents At St. Mungos
Harry and Ron visit Ron’s dad in St. Mungo’s and in the book they also encounter Gilderoy Lockhart (who I’m okay with filmmakers leaving out) and Neville Longbottom visiting his parents, both permanently mad from the Cruciartus Curse that Bellatrix LeStrange tortured them with. This is an extremely important moment, and I remember when I read the passage in the book that it made my stomach do somersaults. This moment not only makes Neville a three dimensional character, but it also bonds him with Harry. Harry immediately feels more connected to Neville, experiencing a “rush of understanding” and working to distract everyone to make sure no one else notices Neville. It’s also important because Neville’s parents were Auror's and Harry is considering making that his wizardry career path. Auror's hold one of the most well-respected wizard jobs out there, but seeing Neville’s parents this way also serves as a sort of “with great power comes great responsibility” moment.
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince: The Prime Minister Meets Cornelius Fudge
The sixth movie forgoes the first scene of the book, where the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, appears to the Prime Minister in his office. Eschewing this scene, filmmakers instead use a completely fabricated sequence depicting Harry flirting with a waitress in a London train station and Dumbledore subsequently swooping in and killing his game, which was just ridiculous. The opening scene of the sixth book is crucial because it answers the question that has been piqued here and there throughout the entire series: How can this world exist and be marching towards this huge war without any integration with the Muggle world? Well, this scene would have explained that and put it into perspective pretty well had it been included. I also enjoy the scene because it’s kind of a last-minute plea for the non-Potter believers. Yes, these books are about wizardry and that’s hard to get on board with because it’s not grounded in reality, but the conversation between the two leaders does a nice job of marrying the two sensibilities.
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince: Bill Weasley and Fleur's Romance
This one is just something I’d like to see, and I completely understand why it didn’t make it into the films. I just simply love the plot of Bill and Fleur. It’s sort of typical fantasy; Fleur changes her superficial ways for love. When Bill is attacked by Greyback and assumes some wolfish tendencies, Mrs. Weasley assumes Fleur will be out the door in no time, but Fleur loves Bill and says she’ll stay and marry him. Also, the seventh book starts with their wedding and that’s where Harry and friends find out that Voldemort has seized control of the Ministry of Magic and thus, the entire Wizarding World. It would simply be nice for non-readers to have had a little insight into Bill and Fleur’s romance, especially since she was a significant part of Goblet of Fire and her wedding will serve as an integral turning point in the final chapter of the series.
Mullikin, best known for his role as Cornelius Hackle in hit stage musical Hello Dolly, passed away on Saturday (03Apr10) in Santa Cruz, California.
He played the character in over 2,000 performances, including tours across the U.S. and Australia with such stars as Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Diller and Dorothy Lamour.
Mullikin made his stage debut in the touring company of South Pacific, and his Broadway debut in the musical revue New Faces of 1952.
He was featured in the 1954 film adaptation of the same name, and also starred in 1962 movie Hell Is for Heroes, alongside Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, James Coburn and Bob Newhart.
Mullikin is survived by a son and a daughter.
Charlton Heston, call your agent. Twentieth Century Fox's long-anticipated "Planet of the Apes" remake is not extinct. And ditto for -- Warner Bros.' new-look "Superman" movie may fly after all.
Word comes today from the Hollywood Reporter that these big-budget sci-fi and super-hero projects -- two of the most highly anticipated movies of the 1990s that never came to pass -- may soon be salvaged from development hell after years of on-again, off-again directors and aborted screenplays.
Fox could reportedly seal a deal with Tim Burton before the end of the week to direct its "Apes" remake, while Warner officials are said to be pleased with a new "Superman" screenplay from Bill Wisher, who co-wrote "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" with James Cameron.
Fox's announcement that Burton is in talks to direct "Apes" should come as a welcome surprise for sci-fi aficionados. The project, which was first announced back in 1993, has been associated with the likes of Oliver Stone, Cameron, Chris Columbus and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the past.
Although the trade newspaper didn't cite its sources, the Burton rumor seems to fit -- at least if you believe recent whisperings. In January, movie rumor Websites such as Ain't It Cool News (www.aint-it-cool-news.com) posted information, purportedly from people close to the project, stating that a new story treatment was recently written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Walker also wrote "Sleepy Hollow," Burton's recent gothic horror hit that grossed $96 million for Paramount.
The original "Planet of the Apes" (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, was based on a book by French writer Pierre Boulle. The flick starred Heston as Taylor, a time-traveling astronaut who crash-lands on a barren planet ruled by a society of apes, who regard humans as mere savage slaves. It also starred Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter as the sympathetic chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira. Such was the popularity of the "Apes" franchise that it spawned four sequels, a live-action TV series and even a cartoon.
Fox commissioned an "Apes" script in the mid-1990's by Sam Hamm (who penned the stories for Burton's "Batman" and "Batman Returns") that reportedly deviated markedly from the original film, with a race of intergalactic apes dispatching a virus to the Earth, and a group of human heroes venturing to the ape planet to send the bio-agent back.
Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Bicentennial Man") was to direct the project and Schwarzenegger was to play an updated version of Heston's role. Later, Cameron was rumored to be unofficially attached to the project as a producer and writer.
According to Ain't It Cool News, Walker's rumored treatment is a modified version of Hamm's screenplay. In it, a civilization of apes living in the Earth's core dispatches a killer virus to the surface, and two scientists must travel to the center of the planet and stop the apes from wiping out humanity.
The Hollywood Reporter says the new "Planet of the Apes" will get the A-list treatment, with a big budget and elaborate special effects (remember the cool ape make-up from the original?). No word yet, however, whether Burton will let frequent leading man Johnny Depp utter that classic line: "Get yer stinkin' paws off me, ya damn dirty ape!"
Meanwhile, no director is working on Warner's long-awaited "Superman" update -- alternately known in its past lives as "Superman Lives" and "Superman Reborn" -- although Burton was attached to the film circa 1997-98. Other screenwriters who have worked on the film prior to Wisher include Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and Dan Gilroy ("Freejack").
CHAINSAW REVISITED: First "Star Wars," now "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Unapix Films, which purchased the sequel rights to the grisly horror franchise about a year ago, announced this week that it will produce a "Chainsaw" prequel, simply titled "Ed Gein."
For the uninformed, Gein was the real-life serial murderer who terrorized Wisconsin in the 1950s, kidnapping women, skinning them alive and making lampshades out of their skin. He is said to be the inspiration for "Psycho" and "Silence of the Lambs," as well as the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974), which was directed by Tobe Hooper, who later made "Poltergeist."
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new film will be directed by Martin Kunert ("Campfire Tales") and written by Kunert and Eric Manes. Kunert and Manes' other credits include "Hindenburg," a movie now in development at Fox with Jan DeBont directing, and "Dare," a TV game show now in development at MTV.
For the record, this will be the fifth movie in the "Chainsaw" series, which chronicles the exploits of a sadistic family of cannibals, led by the patriarch "Grandpa" (who, in one installment, runs a successful chili con carne business --- with human flesh as his main ingredient, of course) and his son Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding freak. The most recent was "Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" a k a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" (1994) which featured Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey in pre-stardom roles.
AND YET ANOTHER REMAKE: The Hollywood recycling program continues unabated, as Variety reports that Columbia Pictures has announced a remake of the 1971 thriller "See No Evil" (a k a "The Blind Terror") for a planned 2001 release. Martin Ransohoff, who produced the original version, also will oversee the remake and screenwriter Tony Jaswinski, who recently sold a spec script to New Line, will write it. In the original movie, Mia Farrow played a blind girl who moved into her aunt and uncle's English countryside home. Everyone else in the house is silently murdered, leaving the poor Farrow to be stalked and terrorized by the assailant. Columbia officials say the new version will be "modernized." Can you say "The Haunting"?
DIGITAL PLANET: Director Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") will see his unconventional digital-video flick "Time Code 2000" premiere at an appropriately unconventional venue -- the first-ever Online Film Festival, March 22-23 in Los Angeles.
Backed by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, the fest showcases movies that are either backed by Web-based companies or include Internet-themed plotlines.
Starring Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kyle MacLachlan and Holly Hunter, "Time Code 2000" was shot on digital video and is being billed as something of a free-spirited innovation. Figgis reportedly had four roving video cameras independently shooting four separate 93-minute stories, all four of which are shown at once on the big screen. The movie was totally improvised -- there was no script -- and totally caveman-esque -- there are no special effects, no sound dubbing, no editing and not even make-up for the actors.
Screenings for the Online Film Festival are scheduled for the Directors Guild of America headquarters in Los Angeles. The event's lineup includes six feature films -- three of which are world premieres -- and 24 shorts. The short films will be viewable in streaming video format at www.onlinefilmfestival.com .