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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Hello, America. Hurricane Sandy is no more, and your faithful Voice recapper has WiFi once again. My New Jersey town loses power whenever someone drives 10 miles over the speed limit, so any legitimately severe weather event results in a Revolution-style return to the Dark Ages (that’s right, free Revolution plug — send your girl some swag, NBC).
To recover from my week without electricity, I’ve spent the last 12 hours no more than three inches from my computer screen, consuming more cat videos and gamma radiation than any doctor would recommend — now I’m back, and more powerful than ever.
Last night’s episode of The Voice began the live playoffs, the first round in which viewers at home have a say as to who stays and who goes. I’ll be expecting my own miniature red button in the mail, thank you very much.
Audience votes will determine two winners from each five-person team, and each coach will choose an additional performer to save for the next round — with eight contestants to be sent home after the results show on Thursday. In this episode, Team Adam and Team Blake face off.
Team Adam opens the playoffs with Joselyn Rivera — Jesus, girlfriend sang “Love on Top” last week? I feel like a little kid who slept through Christmas morning.
It’s important to note that, since the bygone days of the blind auditions, The Voice has seemingly upgraded its production budget by a factor of 10. The contestants now find themselves performing before comparatively enormous audiences on an expanded stage.
Joselyn half-heartedly interacts with the crowd as the camera swoops hyperactively around the venue. It’s exhausting to watch. I’m impressed by the addition of a fuchsia streak in her hair that exactly matches her dress (which came first?), but Joselyn simply doesn’t know what to do with herself.
Christina offers characteristically cryptic praise: “Walking down the stairs,” she compliments Joselyn, “That’s hard to do in high heels.” The judges are also proud to learn that Joselyn brushed her teeth and zipped her coat up all by herself like a big girl, yes she did.
Only now do I realize that Joselyn’s lipstick is also perfectly coordinated with her hair and dress — but that’s still not enough to earn my vote.
Before he takes the stage, Team Blake’s Terry McDermott comments wryly on the importance of his performance in the playoffs. “There’s not much at stake: just my family’s future, and my pride,” he says, marking the first time a Voice contestant has said something intentionally funny.
Terry, King of Scots, performs Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” automatically guaranteeing him 90 percent of all votes cast for tonight’s episode. This isn’t his best performance, but even so, Terry’s confidence and competence on stage vastly outshines Joselyn’s.
Melanie Martinez, Team Adam’s Great Indie Hope, unexpectedly covers “Hit the Road Jack.” There’s something to be said for her “subtle,” “jazzy” take on the song, but Melanie overplays her voice’s girlish, whispery quality — it’s like she’s doing a weak impression of Marilyn Monroe’s infamous “Happy Birthday” to JFK.
I’ve been a fan of Melanie’s all season, and this is the first time we’ve seen her falter. Here’s hoping she’ll have a chance to redeem herself.
As Blake’s only remaining country artist, Liz Davis — who, may I remind you, has already won a reality TV singing competition — is under a lot of pressure to perform.
She rises to the challenge with a rousing version of Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” “Perfect timing for that song,” Christina notes, because in her world, this is apparently July.
I have waited until now to bring up the fact that Cee Lo is costumed as a heavier incarnation of Prince — wearing eyeliner and an impressive Jheri curl — because it took me this long to convince myself that it wasn’t a hallucination brought on by all the generator fumes coming from the neighbors’ backyard.
Former Hey Monday frontwoman Cassadee Pope is up next, singing “My Happy Ending” for Team Blake. My inner angry 15-year-old prefers the Avril Lavigne version, but Cassadee is clearly a pro — unconstrained by nerves, she capably delivers the dynamic energy this song requires.
Annoyed as I am by Bryan Keith’s ever-present fedora, his coach may have actually outdone him — in rehearsals, Adam wears something that is more holes than shirt.
Bryan performs the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” and he’s good — but his voice lacks the sweetness that made the original track so heart-breaking. Instead, he’s all smirking, raspy attitude. Adam raves about Keith’s “spirit and soulfulness,” but I’m not feeling it.
Michaela Paige, the mohawked teenage Internet radio host, sounds like a fictional voter I made up to frighten Mitt Romney. She takes on Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” for Team Blake, igniting the crowd with her preternaturally strong voice.
In my estimation, life-size troll doll Michaela is far and away one of the best singers on the show, but I find her a little off-putting — if only because she’s far more self-assured than a high school senior has any right to be (acne? prom? the Common App?).
My suspicions are confirmed when I visit her Facebook fan page and discover Michaela’s (apparently unironic) description of herself: “Singer/Songwriter. Radio Show Host. Visionary. Philanthropist.”
Julio Cesar Castillo returns to his Mexican folk roots with “El Rey,” in the traditional mariachi costume of a leather jacket, tie, and sweatpants.
Though I like Julio a lot — and I appreciate that Spanish-language selections offer the added bonus of preventing most audience members from singing along — I don’t particularly love this performance. The audience clearly disagrees, rewarding Julio (and coach Blake) with the first standing ovation of the night.
Adam readily acknowledges that Loren Allred has proved to be Team Levine’s sleeper hit. It’s clear that the producers didn’t see her coming either — she’s been featured by far the least of any of the remaining competitors.
Loren brings the sass on a solid but ultimately unexceptional cover of Lisa Stansfield’s “All Around the World.”
In Amanda Brown’s pre-taped intro footage, Adam excitedly touts her choice of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” as “probably the most iconic classic rock song of the night” — guess Blake hadn’t warned him about the Journey.
But no matter, because Amanda’s is easily my favorite performance of the night. She’s powerful, sexy, and capable of some amazingly kick-ass lady-falsetto.
I exercise my right to vote for Amanda not once, but two times, because The Voice is twice the democracy that America will ever be.
The Voice returns Wednesday night at 8 p.m., and so will I, if I survive the impending nor’easter — and maybe even if I don’t. (Ghosts?!)
Follow Molly on Twitter @mollyfitz.
[Image Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC (2)]
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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
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.