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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Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions, Life of Pi and acclaimed independent hits Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom have also been shortlisted.
Meanwhile, Oscar favourites Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Denzel Washington (Flight) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) will be among those battling out for the best acting prizes at the 17th annual Satellite Awards gala later this month (16Dec12).
The best supporting actor and actress categories will be a fight between the likes of Amy Adams (The Master), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Javier Bardem and Dame Judi Dench (both Skyfall) and Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln).
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Ben Affleck (Argo), Ben Lewin (The Sessions), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) are up for the Best Director prize.
European Film Awards winner Amour will be up against A Royal Affair, The Intouchables, Our Children, Kon-Tiki, Pietra, Beyond The Hills, War Witch and Caesar Must Die for Best International Film, and ParaNorman, Wreck-It-Ralph, Rise of the Guardians, Brave, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Frankenweenie will duke it out for Best Animated Film.
Meanwhile, special awards will be given to Terence Stamp (Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution), Paul Williams (Auteur Award), Bruce Davison (Honorary Satellite Award) and acclaimed Beast of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhane Wallis (Newcomer Award).
In the Satellite Awards' TV categories, Kevin Costner's Hatfields & McCoys, Sherlock, Game Change and Wallander will compete for the Best Miniseries/Motion Picture Made for Television trophy, while Downton Abbey, The Newsroom, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Homeland lead the Best Drama category and Girls, The Office, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory lead the Best Comedy list.
The Satellite Awards are handed out annually by the International Press Academy.
Accepting the Career Achievement Award at the Casting Society of America’s annual Artios Awards on Monday night (29Oct12) in Beverly Hills, Affleck revealed he initially signed on to oversee the gripping drama, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, but he had to pass due to a deal he has with his wife to always put family first.
The actor/director said, "I was sure nothing would happen with the show. Now I hate the f**king show. I’ve never seen it."
Libby Goldstein, who helped assemble the cast for Homeland, poked fun at Affleck during the awards ceremony by reading a poem she had written about his decision to step down as director.
Other 2012 Artios Award winners for Outstanding Achievement in Casting included:
Big Budget Feature (Drama) - The Help (Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee)
Big Budget Feature (Comedy) - Crazy, Stupid, Love (Mindy Marin & Kara Lipson)
Feature - Studio or Independent (Drama) - My Week With Marilyn (Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood & Nina Gold)
Feature - Studio or Independent (Comedy) - The Artist (Heidi Levitt & Michael Sanford)
Low Budget Feature - Martha Marcy May Marlene (Susan Shopmaker)
Television Pilot (Drama) - Homeland (Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein, Julie Tucker, Lisa Mae Fincannon & Craig Fincannon)
Television Pilot (Comedy) - Girls (Jennifer Euston)
Television Series (Drama) - The Good Wife (Mark Saks & John Andrews) and Homeland (Judy Henderson, Craig Fincannon & Lisa Mae Fincannon)
Television Series (Comedy) - Girls (Jennifer Euston)
Television Movie or Mini Series - Game Change (David Rubin, Richard Hicks, Pat Moran, Kathleen Chopin & Anne Davison)
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.