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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CBS Broadcasting, Inc.
This was the second part of a three-show arc, where "A Hero Will Fall." All the previews seemed to point towards Kevin Chapman's Lionel Fusco dying, but the showrunners have been known to completely mislead everyone.
The episode opened with footage of John Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) talking about the head of the corrupt police squad, HR, Alonzo Quinn (Clarke Peters) as they dragged him away from the crooked judge's place. They decided to go to the FBI. The scene then shifted to the judge's place, with the harried jurist sitting in a ransacked place. The corrupt cop Patrick Simmons showed a picture of Reese to the judge, saying he was coming up with a plan and that they will find Carter and Quinn. Simmons was also working on story about how the house came to be in that condition and then shot the judge. Real cold. He wanted Quinn and Carter alive, but his directive for Reese: Shoot to Kill.
Outside: The Machine called Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) and gave a bunch of numbers. That's never a good thing.
Reese, Quinn, Carter got on a subway to go to the FBI office. Reese said the cavalry was coming. Part of that cavalry was Fusco, who was putting his son to bed at the moment. He showed him the key that Carter had given him for the lockbox that had all the information on HR, and tucked him in bed. After closing his room door, he found Samantha Shaw in his kitchen. After she told him the situation, that they were going to have to get Reese and Carter, Fusco tried to set boundaries. Shaw replied with a bored voice. "I'm already sorry I have to listen to your whiny ass all the way to Queens." She's very empathetic. Not.
Reese was the number, since Simmons had put the bounty out. As if on cue, a group of thugs came into the subway, one of them brandishing a knife. Really. A knife against Reese? Hah. Commercial.
The show started again with the thugs bouncing out of the subway and the three fugitives exited. Quinn, the defiant one, pickpocketed Reese's phone and broke it, severing a very important connection to Finch. Once they realized the communication with Reese was lost, Shaw suggested that Finch talk to the Machine. Finch demurred. Shaw pointed out the Machine talked to Root. Finch was not convinced and decided to separate Shaw and Fusco. Every horror movie fan all said, "Uh-oh..."
Finch went to talk to Root in her Faraday Cage in their library. He opened the conversation in an odd way, saying that he used to see the machine in his dreams when he built it, but Root had changed the DNA and corrupted the image. She replied that while the Machine spoke to Finch, she had a more intimate relationship with it. Root then struck a nerve by asking if the 'big lug is in trouble', meaning Reese. She offered her help, as if Finch would just forget that she kidnapped Finch and dragged him around the country while killing people. That was just mischievous fun between friends, right? Finch said that bad things would happen and she said that he has probably burned through previous 'helper monkeys' anyways. The only thing missing was her wearing a mask and talking about Chianti and fava beans.
Simmons and a detective named Petersen (played by Lee Tergesen, one of my favorite character actors) were talking while running a road block to try to catch Carter, Quinn and Reese. Walking through the subway station Shaw saw an Asian gang looking at people with suits. She contacted Reese, who was in an ambulance, wearing an EMT uniform. They rode by Simmons and Petersen and since it was dark, they almost made it. Of course, Simmons had to look at the back of the ambulance and saw a bloody handprint on the side. It may have been a deliberate signal on Quinn's part, but it was likely bad luck. He screamed to stop the ambulance and Reese took over driving while gunfire rained. Fusco laid down backup gunfire and the ambulance drove away. Of course, Simmons probably tracked down the path of the shooting and captured Fusco. Uh-oh. Another phone smashed. The prop department probably paid more than usual for its prop phones in this episode.
After the commercial, Shaw was talking to Finch. When it came to locating Fusco, she didn't find it very feasible. "Remind me to hire an optimist," Finch deadpanned. The scene shifted to Fusco tied up in a fortune cookie factory. Simmons was feeling cheery, describing how Fusco would be screaming. Chapman really turned in a great performance here, cracking wise. The punches began. Simmons held up the lockbox key that Fusco had, and the formerly dirty cop replied that it was for his locker in the Y. Simmons then read a bunch of fortune cookies until he got the one he wanted: "Tell the people holding you everything or they will break your bones." I think he made that one up, though.
Quinn, Carter and Reese were on the street, looking for a place to hide. Reese and Carter saw some gangs looking for them and did a quick turn, breaking into what turned to be the morgue. Reese grabbed a phone and contacted Finch, Carter figured out through their conversation that Fusco was being held. Outside, a cop was sitting in a car talking about not finding Reese. Shaw slipped in next to him and after a brief conversation, put a grenade in his hand and made him hold onto it. She asked where Fusco was and the cop stalled. With his lip quivering, he said that if he crossed Simmons, he would hunt down his family. He picked the wrong person to complain to. Shaw was unmoved and threw the pin into the backseat and exited, leaving a very panicked cop.
We went back to the fortune cookie factory to find Fusco in bad shape. There were distinct sounds of bones cracking. He was still quite defiant, but he was up against a psychopath in Simmons. The monster mentioned his child and as casually as asking someone to get some milk, he called an accomplice to kill the kid. Desperate, Fusco gave an address for the bank, somewhere in New Jersey.
Things got worse for Reese and Carter very quickly. Cops outside found the gang who had caused them to make their hasty exit and one member showed the morgue's broken lock to cops. Momentarily unaware of how bad things were getting, Reese and Carter were talking in the morgue. They shared their fatalistic views on life and their near-death experiences. Carter talked about birth of her son, a C-section. Reese said he thought of suicide, but the events that happened in the show's first episode saved him and that she was the best thing for him. After a moment, they kissed, culminating about two seasons' worth of sexual tension. He then said tenderly that she changed him. A major buzzkill then occurred: They saw people swarming the morgue. Carter declared they were coming in for the kill. As Scooby-Doo says: Ruh-roh.
The post-commercial break saw Reese and Carter barricading themselves and then Finch leaving Root breakfast. She was puzzled, since it was 4 in the morning. Finch said that he has to go. and left after resisting another entreaty of hers to help, even though she said she understood why he didn't trust her. She did casually say that she was sorry for his loss, which he responded with a shocked look.
We were taken to Simmons outside a bank, but Fusco had lied. It was the wrong bank. Fusco said that he would take them to the place himself, but an angry Simmons retorted that he kept his promises and told Petersen to have both killed. Back in the morgue, a cornered Reese and Carter were looking for things and Reese told her to look in supply closet for some chemicals. Carter came back out -- we know where this was going, right? -- to find the room empty and an air vent open. She called out his name, knowing he was possibly sacrificing himself. They talked outside the door, with Carter laying a guilt trip on him, saying she'd hate him if anything happened to him. He wryly replied that she was stuck with him and that he'd see her on the other side. At Fusco's place. a corrupt cop had his clearly terrified son on the bed while he stood in the doorway. Petersen wanted to twist the knife a little bit and had Fusco talk to his son before he was to be killed. Again, Chapman was excellent here, He was trying to comfort his son in what would probably be his last moments, telling him to close his eyes. There was a gunshot. Then Shaw's voice was on the phone. She had saved Fusco's son. But that meant that she couldn't save Fusco. Fusco nodded grimly at the news, but he seemed happy that his son was alive. He shook it off and stared death in the face. Of course, there was another commercial.
Fusco was staring down the barrel of Petersen's gun. But it was odd, he was talking calmly to him. Petersen was gloating, saying he had broken Fusco's fingers. "That made it no big deal to break my thumb," Fusco replied. That meant he was able to slip out of the handcuffs, and he managed to grab Petersen and choke him from behind with the cuffs.
It turned out to be Finch in the morgue. He dropped one guard with a taser and then started pulling on the power supply door. It was still dark and Reese started shooting. After some gunfire and dropping all but one cop, he managed to get out, holding his arm while hoping the lone cop would follow him outside. Finch turned on the power and used the loudspeaker to announce that all was clear. Carter dragged Quinn outside.
We saw Reese walking outside, with the Machine predicting his survival chances, which were dropping precariously by the second. Fate intervened, though, with Reese getting arrested by apparently the last two honest cops in NYC, due to an anonymous tip from Finch. They figured he would be safer in custody. Carter managed to get Quinn to the FBI, which began a whole montage of arrests, including Quinn getting a mugshot. The Machine said HR was neutralized.
Fast forward a bit. Things seemed back to normal. Finch ran into Carter outside her precinct. She was a detective again. She indicated to Finch that she knew about the Machine, which had Finch with another shocked look. She said she would make sure Reese was released. Another scene showed Fusco with his son at hockey. Shaw got in the car's back seat, but Fusco didn't say anyting about boundaries. He said thank you, which Shaw accepted.
It was later that night. Carter found Reese in holding as a John Doe. She walked him out and Finch was getting ready to drive Reese back to the library. It was mentioned that Simmons was still loose. Just as Finch was getting out of the car to cross the street to get Reese, a pay phone rang, to indicate a number. Finch stood frozen, staring at the phone. While Finch stood there, Simmons came out of an alley and shot both Reese and Carter. Carter winged Simmons, but got a bullet mid-center for her troubles. While Reese, badly hurt himself, held Carter, she died. Finch could only still stand there in disbelief.
Previews for Part III seem to show a very, very unhinged Reese. It should be fascinating, though it will be difficult to say if people will have processed the events of this episode in time. A week is very short.
Warner Bros. Entertainment
Last night's episode, which opened a three-episode arc, began with surveillance footage of a delivery truck pulling up to a car on fire. A person shot at the truck and two people were subsequently knocked out and the assailant then drove off with the truck. Oh, yes, the mystery person was wearing a gas mask.
The show cut to the library, with John Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Harold Finch (Michael Emerson). Apparently the Machine, which is the center of the whole show, has issued 38 numbers. (A brief primer - this machine, which uses all kinds of surveillance footage, issues numbers for people who are in potential danger. It's then up to Reese, Finch and anyone in their network to save these people.) These numbers turn out to be all cops. Hmm.
Detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), one of the people Reese and Finch regularly call on, came up to the morning scene of the smoldering car. Reese surprised him by also coming up and presenting a fake badge. It turned out to be a Russian driving the truck; for those who have been following the show, you know that the Russian mob has been intertwined with the mysterious HR, a criminal element of corrupt cops. An element that Fusco used to be part of. Reese and Finch knew that a war is possibly brewing between HR and the Russians, since HR was supposed to give safe passage for the Russians to trade their illicit wares. Reese wondered, "Who lit the fuse?"
This show REALLY does well in going back and forth in time. The footage rewound to Nov. 10 (the show pretty much operates as if it is happening on the very day that it airs). Another Reese/Finch cohort, police officer Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson), was meeting with Alonzo Quinn - a prominent member of City Hall, the godfather of the late Cal Beecher (a love interest of Carter's) and the head of HR, which Carter now knew from events in last week's episode. She purposely sounded pessimistic when talking with Quinn, saying she was thinking of stepping down from the Beecher investigation. Clarke Peters continued doing a great job of playing Quinn as a sociopath. Quinn left but not before Carter used another technology often featured on the show: She paired her phone with his, so that she could hear whatever calls he makes or receives. She heard him talking with Patrick Simmons, a corrupt cop and pretty much Quinn's right-hand man, to set up a meetup with the Russian Mafia and their big man, Peter Yogorov. They met and of course, Carter was nearby with a directional mike. Yogorov complained that he was more like an errand boy and then said that he was done. Simmons fired a verbal warning shot by saying that they wouldn't provide safe passage for their delivery vehicles anymore, which Carter duly noted. Simmons then told a dirty cop that he wanted him to stake out Carter.
Carter went home and found Reese waiting there. There's always an undercurrent between those two. Reese is very protective, but Carter wasn't having any of it this time. She said that she wanted to be left alone - since the law says he's a criminal and HR knew they work together. Reese seemed to respect that and then as he was leaving, tossed over his shoulder for her to call if she got in over her head. After seeing that the former CIA operative was gone, she took the phone that Finch and Reese contact her on, removed the sim card and smashed it with her gun. Well...that was a statement. Not necessarily a SMART one, but a statement.
Two more flashbacks were woven through the episode dealing with Carter and her ex, Paul, at different junctures in time - eight years ago and five years ago. Eight years ago, Paul was a defiant man who refused to get help for his PTSD during military service. Carter had enough and made him leave. At first he was defiant and even went to her home and sat with their young son. He got angry when she told him he still needed help and even smashed a lamp, causing her to reach for her gun. He left, angry. Then the five-year flashback showed that he HAD gotten help and while he knew it was too late to repair their relationship, he wanted to be there for them.. and he left her his number to call if she needed help. This all played a part in the end .
Flash forward to present day, with Carter and Fusco sitting near a dock. Carter had been shutting Fusco out, but her former partner reached out after she had lost her current partner in a shooting. Fusco was trying to figure out how everything happened, but Carter, who had actually been there, diverted his attention. After Fusco left, she made a phone call...which turned out to be to Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni), an ally only in the sense of keeping one's enemies closer than one's friends. Elias, who had been in hiding, paid a visit to Yogorov, which was awkward because Elias had killed Yogorov's dad. After convincing Yogorov that he hated HR more than him, he left an incriminating file for Yogorov to pore over.
After Carter got a confirmation phone call from Elias and told him to lay low, a recent cohort, Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi), met with her unbeknownst to Reese and Finch (because they would have had a collective aneurysm) and brought a satchel of guns. That led up to the scene with the burning car and delievery truck. It was Carter who did it. Later, Reese and Finch saw the footage and after sussing out that it was a female, thought it was Shaw. Turns out Shaw spilled the beans that it was Carter, leaving both Reese and Finch in a state of consternation
An angry Yogorov called Quinn, accusing him of the theft of the truck. Quinn tried to play cool, but the mobster threatened him. This was interspersed with Carter on a nearby rooftop overlooking Quinn's office.
While Carter was busy, Reese went to her house (he tends to ignore personal boundaries) and found it empty but located a bulletin board with her HR list. Reese called Finch and then got a call from Carter. She asked him to trust her, which he did, reluctantly. Afterwards, Simmons called Quinn and while they were conversing, Carter shot out his window with a sniper gun, making him think it was the Russians, setting the stage for an all-out war, a war that Finch said favors HR, since they have the law on their side.
There were scenes of Russian men being rounded up by HR and then Carter went to a cornered Yogorov and warned him. The only solution? Have her arrest him, a point she punctuated by holding up handcuffs.
This was a half hour's worth. The writers do NOT dilly-dally, which makes a very fast show. It felt like an hour's worth of excitement had been crammed in that shorter span.
The second half-hour began with Yogorov in holding under a fake name. Carter said that he shot at Quinn and that she knows Quinn is head of HR. She also said that Quinn HAS to go down and needs him to sign a statement as such. The carrot that she dangled was moving his brother, who HR has in Rikers as leverage, to a safer facility. Yogorov bit, but not before warning her to be careful which judge she chose to get a warrant on Quinn, since there's a lot of money moving around. Carter assured him that she had done her due diligence.
Carter surprised Fusco outside his place and after some back and forth on the subject of trust, she admitted that she's protecting him and gave him the key to a safe deposit box that has everything on HR. Hey, if that's not trust, I don't know what is. Fusco was so moved at this that he wanted to help and ran upstairs to get equipment, but of course Carter ditched him, since she needs to be the lone wolf.
HR had the mobsters at a shipyard and were all set for some gunplay. Reese and Shaw were at the scene, hiding. But just as the HR cops pulled their guns out, the FBI came screeching in. After a brief conversation, they found drugs in the trunk of a high-ranking HR cop's car. Fusco called Reese to say that Carter ditched him.
Carter called a judge for a warrant, but after he agreed to, he hung up and called Quinn. Oops. Right then I had a vision of the ancient Knight Templar in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "You have chosen...poorly."
Before heading to the judge, Carter called Paul and had a heartfelt conversation with both him and her son, who was staying there. After hanging up, she drove to the judge, who escorted her to his living room, where Simmons, Quinn and several other dirty cops were waiting. With guns. Quinn had to have a little speech, and Carter got him to keep talking...for them to record his words on his own phone (Knight Templar: "Oops. You chose wisely! Wisely!") and in that moment of stunned silence, Reese burst in through the doors like the Terminator, guns ablaze. Carter managed to grab Quinn, who got winged by a shot, and managed to drag him outside while he defiantly kept saying that this was the worst mistake she ever made. A cop car came screeching into the driveway, but Reese shot out its engine and they made their getaway while the cop took cover behind his car door.
Of course, though, Simmons got a picture from the police car dashboard. and directed that the image of Reese, Carter and Quinn be distributed to EVERYONE. Including criminal elements. The episode ended there...which was good, since I almost permanently whitened my knuckles during the last 10 minutes.
The wheels are rolling and it's going to be VERY interesting to see what happens in the next two episodes.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.