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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After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
Conan to replace Leno in 2009
During a special program Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of NBC's The Tonight Show, Jay Leno announced he will retire as the show's host in 2009 and pass the torch to fellow comedian Conan O'Brien. Late Night With Conan O'Brien currently airs directly after The Tonight Show, but the comic's contract with the network was due to expire this year. According to The Associated Press, NBC made the announcement five years in advance to hold on to the 41-year-old O'Brien, who was considered likely to jump to another network without a promise of advancement. Leno said NBC executives approached him about O'Brien shortly after he signed his latest contract extension. He said he endorsed the move and set his own 2009 exit date. Leno, 54, took over the show in 1992 from Johnny Carson, who hosted the show for 30 years. At the time, he beat out David Letterman, who then moved his late night chat show to rival CBS. "A lot of good friendships were permanently damaged," Leno said as he recalled the hostility during Monday's show. "Quite frankly, I don't want to see anybody go through that again." Leno, who was accused of overlooking Carson's 30-year legacy when he took over host duties 12 years ago, also offered a warm tribute to his predecessor by showing a lengthy clip package of Carson's funniest moments. "Johnny set the standard for how this job should be done," Leno said. "He was such a gentleman. He always had impeccable timing. He was the comedian's comedian. Those of us who do this for a living, we all owe him a tremendous debt."
Chaka Khan's son arrested
Damien Patrick Holland, the 25-year-old son of R&B singer Chaka Khan, has been arrested for investigation of murder stemming from the Friday night shooting of an 18-year-old man in Los Angeles, the AP reports. According to the police report, Holland and the victim were fighting and both struggled to control a gun, which fired and struck the teen, who died later at a nearby hospital. Holland was booked for investigation of first-degree murder and remained in custody on $1 million bail. The victim's identity was being withheld until his relatives could be notified.
Barenaked Ladies get variety show
Fox Broadcasting Co. has ordered a pilot for a comedy/variety show starring the popular Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, best known for their hit songs "One Week" and "Pinch Me." According to the Hollywood Reporter, the project, tentatively titled The Barenaked Ladies Variety Show, is set to expand upon the tongue-in-cheek stage banter as well as improv bits with the audience that have become a staple of Barenaked Ladies' concerts. The show will highlight band members Steven Page, Kevin Hearn, Tyler Stewart, Jim Creeggan and Ed Robertson in comedy skits as exaggerated versions of themselves and will include musical performances by the group and other musical guests.
Are Daily Show viewers just "stoned slackers"?
Whose audience is more intelligent, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor or Comedy Central's The Daily Show? The question begged to be answered after Daily Show host Jon Stewart's appeared on Bill O'Reilly's Factor. "You know what's really frightening?" O'Reilly told Stewart. "You actually have an influence on this presidential election ... you've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night and they can vote." Comedy Central said they didn't want this misconception to persist so they turned to Nielsen Media Research, whose research indicates viewers of Stewart's show are more likely to have completed four years of college than people who watch The O'Reilly Factor. Comedy Central, however, added it had no statistics on how many people watch The Daily Show stoned.
Darrell Hammond wins Best Regis award
Comedian Darrell Hammond's impersonation of Live With Regis and Kelly host Regis Philbin was awarded Best Regis in the second annual Rellys. The mock awards, which include self-affirming categories such as Funniest Guest, were created to offset its lack of success in the Daytime Emmys, the AP reports. Hammond was up against Best Regis nominees Dana Carvey, Tom Hanks and Kevin Pollack. Winners, decided by viewer votes, receive the coveted Golden Stool, a trophy-size version of the seating that accommodates Live guests and co-hosts Philbin and Kelly Rippa. Philbin, meanwhile, took home a Golden Stool for Best Dressed for outfitting himself as Kid Rock.
Gilligan's Island resumes filming
Whew! Filming continued on The Real Gilligan's Island after the Gulf of Mexico island where the TBS reality show is being shot was evacuated for Hurricane Ivan last week. TBS spokeswoman Michelle Sisco told the AP this week the cast and crew had been evacuated Sept. 16 as a precaution and no one was injured by the hurricane. The exact location of the reality show, however, hasn't been revealed. The unscripted skein features seven castaways--a real-life skipper, a first mate, a millionaire couple, a movie star, a professor and an innocent farm girl--and pits them against the elements to see if they can devise a way to get off the island. The Real Gilligan's Island is set to premiere as scheduled Nov. 30.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
Will Will Truman get lucky? Will Chandler and Monica tie the knot? Will Dawson and Pacey make up? And what's up with "Popular"?!
Those are some of the questions that have been posed and that will be answered during the fall season of television.
Herein is a critique of the fall seasons of 10 TV series that Hollywood.com staffers watch on a weekly basis:
"Will & Grace," NBC, Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET
Is "Will & Grace," the as-of-late-sometimes-hilarious sitcom about a gay man named Will Truman (Eric McCormack, who looks tan and really sexy this season), his best gay friend Jack McFarland (the always funny, over the top Emmy winner Sean Hayes), his best female friend Grace Adler (Debra Messing), and her lush of a socialite "employee" Karen Walker (Emmy winner Megan Mullally), falling from, er, grace this season? "Will & Grace" sadly has been spotty since its Emmy win for Best Comedy. McCormack has said that Will will date this season and have a number of boyfriends. The guest spot a few weeks back by Patrick Dempsey as one of those alleged future boyfriends was funny, and the exchange among Dempsey, McCormack and Hayes in Banana Republic (dancer-actor-singer-choreographer Jack is now a Banana Republic sales associate, headphones and all) was witty and pretty and ... well, you know. But last week's much-hyped guest spot by Cher was totally disappointing. The writing was weak for most of the episode, guest star Camryn Manheim was wasted and Cher appeared in only the last few minutes. What we needed was a half hour of "Jack & Cher." Here's hoping that Will hooks up with Mr. Banana Republic. Life is about the Banana, after all. Go, girlfriend. Grade: B-
"Friends," NBC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET
Some shows grind to a halt after two characters get together, but the pairing of Monica (Courteney Cox Arquette) and Chandler (Matthew Perry), who are set to wed this season, has created more hijinks than ever. They have created the funniest storylines of the season: Monica consults an elaborate wedding binder she's been keeping since 4th grade, only to find out that her parents spent her wedding fund on a beach house. Chandler keeps having embarrassing moments with his future father-in-law (Elliott Gould) and finds that he can't smile in photographs. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) compete for maid of honor (Phoebe wins, but lets Rachel do it because it means more to her). Meanwhile, the non-wedding-related storylines have fallen to the wayside: Rachel has hired a cute younger assistant she can't date; Joey's pilot gets canceled, and Phoebe just found out that her grandmother's secret cookie recipe is from Nestle Tollhouse. Ross (David Schwimmer), other than a memory-lane kiss with Rachel, is so far unlucky in love. But, in the funniest episode of the season, he finds an unlikely snuggling partner in Joey when the two accidentally nap together -- and like it. Grade: B+
"The West Wing," NBC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET
This Emmy winner started its second season with a bang -- quite literally. After the cliffhanger from the end of the first season, wherein President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) were shot, the two-hour opener took viewers from the present to the past. The episode cleverly gave the audience the background of why Bartlet first got on the campaign trail and showed how his extraordinary staff was assembled, all while juxtaposed with the assassination crisis. And the show doesn't seem to be stopping, creating scenarios that mirror the current social and political climate -- including some controversial racial conflict. The cast is still outstanding -- including Emmy winners Allison Janney as Press Secretary C.J. Cregg and Richard Schiff as Communications Director Toby Ziegler. Guest spots by the likes of Timothy Busfield and John Laroquette added heart and intensity to the behind-the-scenes storylines. But the heart of the show remains Sheen as the wise and truthful President Bartlet, and given the current real-life situation in the political world, Bartlet would be considered a godsend. Grade: A
"Everybody Loves Raymond," CBS, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET
Though "Everybody Loves Raymond" does not tend to build upon storylines episode to episode, it has shown some resourcefulness this season. Bringing in guest stars such as Robert Culp as Debra Barone's (Emmy winner Patricia Heaton) dad was a nice touch, especially when it led to a hilarious dispute between in-laws. But the show has been quite hit-or-miss lately. Ray (Ray Romano) developing a fear of germs, for example -- interesting but not funny, especially for a character who already has three young children. Just a breakdown of logic there. Ray's brother Robert, the divorced cop (played with deadpan precision by Brad Garrett), has also been curiously underused thus far. Grade: B-
"ER," NBC, Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET
The best thing America's top drama -- for the past six seasons -- has done so far is not add any new characters. Drs. Greene and Corday (Anthony Edwards and Alex Kingston) have gotten engaged; Dr. Kovac (the very hunky Goran Visjnic) is feeling guilt over a guy he accidentally killed during a mugging; and Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) is back from rehab and peeing in a cup whenever he's asked. Dr. Chen (Ming-Na) is pregnant by a doctor at another hospital; Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle) lost his surgical attending position and is now "demoted" to an ER post; and there are hints that Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes) is mulling a lesbian relationship. Oh yes, and they treat people, too. The strongest episodes are still the medical-oriented cases, especially the 22-week-old "miracle baby" who survived nearly an entire day. Medical student/nurse Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) is emerging as the emotional core, letting us miss Sherry Stringfield and Julianna Margulies a little less. What's left to do is to use more of Michael Michele, who plays pediatric resident Dr. Cleo Finch. "ER" is not consistently great, but it still keeps our pulses pounding. Grade: B
"Dawson's Creek," WB, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET
Last year ended with Joey (Katie Holmes) sailing into the sunset with Pacey (Joshua Jackson), leaving her best friend/soul mate Dawson (James Van Der Beek) weeping and alone. It's a good choice because Holmes and Jackson have decidedly better chemistry, and although they dispense the same amount of SAT-filled sentences (meanwhile Pacey is flunking school) as Joey and Dawson, this new couple have snappier arguments/flirtations. This season: Joey's repairing her friendship with Dawson, who's trying to move on by taking pictures and finding a new confidante in Pacey's older sister (Sasha Alexander), particularly after his parents discover that they're having another baby. Pacey and Dawson take (very small) steps toward reconciliation after the former's boat is swept into a storm and the latter risks his neck to save him. Jen (Michelle Williams) is temporarily ostracized from the group -- and from best friend Jack (Kerr Smith) -- when she lets the already medicated Andie (Meredith Monroe) try Ecstasy at a rave, causing her to collapse and nearly die. But it's Andie who gives the fractured group a chance to heal again when she announces that she's leaving Capeside to spend the rest of the year in Italy (she already got into Harvard early, dontcha know). In her tearjerking farewell, she implores her friends to make up, and it looks as if they will. Grade: B+
"Frasier," NBC, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET
In the early '90s -- in its third season -- "Seinfeld" began to structure its episodes around the supporting characters, not the title character. Suddenly, the same seems true about "Frasier." While the love affair between Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) seemed to be the hook to get viewers back into the show early this fall, it remained the hook throughout most of the season. And it worked. Their relationship has spawned a number of morose storylines thus far, with ex-wives and ex-fiancees plotting against the likable couple, but Frasier himself seems to have been pushed aside, stuck with adequate conflicts such as his displeasure with his wealthy new boss. But it still works. And Niles pretending to still be married in social circles is surprisingly hilarious each time. Grade: B+
"Spin City," ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET
No, you can't blame Charlie Sheen alone for "Spin City's" decline in popularity. It really comes down to the writing. Only one episode of "Spin City" this fall has been impressive -- the one where Sheen and Heather Locklear lock horns on the set of "Live With Regis" -- but little else has proven to be much of a surprise. Sure, Sheen's character, the deputy mayor of New York, is narcissistic, and yes, he has a tainted history with drugs, but didn't we already expect that? It's not Sheen's fault that this sort of cliched writing took place. It's not Locklear's fault that she has little chemistry with him. And it's not the viewers' fault for wanting to change the channel - even though it means the certain demise of one of their previously most beloved shows. We miss ya, Mike. Grade: C-
"Popular," WB, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET
The WB's "Popular" is one of the most underrated and funniest shows on television. It's sad that it's been relegated to a Friday night spot. The show boasts a fabulous ensemble cast of pretty people vs. Everyday people, although the two sides have been mingling more and more. School stud turned social pariah Josh Ford (Bryce Johnson) has hooked up with tree-hugger Lily Esposito (Tamara Mello) after the pair rescued a gay chimpanzee from the L.A. Zoo. It's a lame pairing, but player-player Josh has already hooked up with the rest of the ladies on the show, so I guess Lil' Lily was next. Alarming this season: Instead of funny gags such as kidnapping Gwyneth Paltrow's personal shopper and competing ruthlessly for Homecoming Queen, "Popular" has turned to Very Special Episodes. Harrison John (Christopher Gorham) is battling leukemia, Nicole Julian (Tammy Lynn Michaels) has cried ... twice(!) ... over her fall from popularity, Carmen Ferrera's (Sara Rue) mother is an alcoholic, and both reigning Homecoming Queen Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) and Mike "Sugar Daddy" Bernadino are battling eating disorders. Not very funny stuff. This season has been more about tears over sadness and struggles rather than laughter. As Mary Cherry (the always hilarious Leslie Grossman) would say, let's get some laughs back, hon. And pronto! Grade: B-
"Ally McBeal," Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET
After a disappointing third season, David E. Kelley's series was in need of some serious spice. Kelley tried everything to raise ratings, from a lesbian lip-lock to some full-blown musical mishmash, but nothing could save the sinking show. In a final act of desperation, Kelley brought in a fresh-from-the-cell Robert Downey Jr. Little did Kelley know that the criminal element would bring such critical success this fall. As a cute, clever attorney named Larry, Downey's straight but sarcastic delivery is the perfect foil for Ally's (Calista Flockhart) high-strung hysteria. He steals every scene with his flawless timing, then punctuates even the simplest sentence with that trademark sexy smirk. Downey may have been sent in to rekindle the spark, but his presence has set the show on fire and made "Ally McBeal" a must-see on Monday nights again. Grade: B+
Reviews by Jason Alcorn, Kit Bowen, Tracey Pollack, Ellen A. Kim and Don Chareunsy.
Just a little bit longer, one week actually, before the miracle of autumn, when TV starts anew, like fresh flowers growing out of the compost pile you keep out back. Can you smell it? Mmm … compost. In the meantime … um … well, the Olympic Games are still on. Only 220.75 hours to go. Apparently you aren't watching the tape delayed archery contests as much as in past Olympics, and we (and a few folks at NBC) find that a little disturbing. Come on, people! We medaled in the 10-meter BB gun (sorry, air rifle) competition. Surely that's interesting! U-S-A! U-S-A! Hello?!
It's "PBS Week" at Channel Surfer, and that means one thing: Day and time may vary in your area! The festivities begin (for most of you) on Sunday with "Debating Our Destiny." Ever wonder why leading presidential candidates hate debating with third party candidates on TV? It's because the last thing you want, as a leading presidential candidate, is to have somebody talking about actual issues in a televised debate! Now, PBS' venerable news anchor, Jim Lehrer, throws all that out the window by bringing in 11 former candidates (including former President Bush) who no longer have everything to gain by not saying anything. And guess what? These guys can be very forthcoming and aren't nearly as stupid as they pretend to be when courting your vote. This one is illuminating, frustrating and worth watching. Tuesday is "Supernatural Night"! "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" kicks off its fifth season (8 p.m. on the WB) when Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) squares off against a perennial player in the vampire set, Dracula. Should make for an interesting feud. "Buffy" is followed by the second season premiere of its darker spin-off, "Angel," at 9 p.m. The repentant vampire, Angel (David Boreanaz) starts off the new season on the wrong foot when he mistakenly kills a demon that turns out to have been a good guy who had been protecting a mysterious woman. Angel tries to make good and takes over this job, only to find out that this woman (Justina Machado) has serious unresolved issues with the hell spawn crowd. Rounding out the evening, and continuing to fight the good fight in educating Americans about the ever present space aliens among us, "Danger in Our Skies: The New UFO Threat" airs on UPN at 9 p.m. Sure it's a repeat, but can we ever really get enough UFO shows?
Wednesday offers dueling tributes to butt-kickin' movie stars. PBS' "American Masters" anthology series (8 p.m., but of course day and time might vary) has Morgan Freeman narrating "Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows." Study the exploits of Dirty Harry and watch the metamorphosis of Eastwood's "Man With No Name" character from the stylized violence of the Sergio Leone-directed Westerns of the 1960s to the aged and wiser Will Muny of Eastwood's own Oscar-winning "Unforgiven" in 1992.
Trying hard to beat the Eastwood tribute will be TNT with "Hollywood Salutes Bruce Willis: An American Cinematheque Tribute" at 8 p.m.. This will be a clip-filled ceremony taped at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with presentations and appearances by friends and colleagues such as Paul Reiser, Kevin Pollack, David Letterman, Samuel L. Jackson, Haley Joel Osment, Larry King and the guy who gave Willis that first big break, "Moonlighting" creator Glenn Gordon Caron.
One question: If it's "American," then what the heck is "Cinematheque"? Oops, gotta go. Olympic lawn darts is on MSNBC! U-S-A! U-S-A!