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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
More Reviews:'The Hunt' Is Frustrating and Fantastic'You're Next' Amuses and Occasionally Scares'Short Term 12' Is Real and Miraculous
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
From Our Partners:40 Most Revealing See-Through Red Carpet Looks (Vh1)15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
The remake of Total Recall never escapes the shadow of its Arnold Schwarzenegger-led predecessor — and strangely it feels like a choice. With a script that's nearly beat-for-beat the original film Total Recall plods along with enhanced special effects that bring to life an expansive sci-fi world and action scenes constructed to send eyes flipping backwards into skulls. Filling the cracks of the fractured film is a story that without knowledge of the Philip K. Dick adaptation's previous incarnation is barely decipherable. Those who haven't seen Paul Verhoeven's 1990 Total Recall? Time to get a few memory implants. 2012 Recall makes little sense with the cinematic foundation but it does zero favors to those out of the know.
Colin Farrell takes over duties from Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid a down-on-his-luck factory worker hoping to escape his stagnate existence with a boost from Rekall a company capable of engineering fake memories. Quaid calls the damp slums of "The Colony" home (one of two inhabitable parts of Earth) but he dreams of moving to the New Federation of Britain a pristine metropolis on the other side of the planet. When the futuristic treatment goes awry — caused by previously existing memories of our blue collar hero's supposed past life as a secret agent — Quaid emerges from Rekall with lethal power hidden under his mild-mannered persona. He quickly goes on the run escaping squads of soldiers robots and his assassin "wife " Lori (Kate Beckinsale) all hot on his tail. Total Recall turns into one long chase scene as Quaid unravels the mystery of his erased memories.
But when it comes to answers and heady sci-fi Total Recall falls short. Farrell isn't a hulking action star like Schwarzenegger but he's a performer that can sensitively explore any human crisis big or small. Director Len Wiseman (Underworld Live Free or Die Hard) never gives his leading man that opportunity. Farrell makes the best of the films occasional slow moment but the weight of Recall's mindf**k is suffocated in a series of fist fights hovercar pile-ups and foot chases pulled straight out of the latest platformer video game (a sequence that sends Quaid running across the geometric rooftop architecture of The Colony looks straight out of Super Mario Bros.). When Jessica Biel as Quaid's former romantic interest Melina and Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston as the power-hungry politico Cohaagen are finally woven into Farrell's feature length 50 yard dash it's too late — the movie isn't making sense and it's not about to regardless of the charm on screen.
The action is slick and the futuristic design is impeccable but without any time devoted to building the stakes Total Recall feels more like a HDTV demo than a thrilling blockbuster. The movie's greatest innovation is the central set piece "The Fall " an elevator that travels between the two cities at rapid speed. The towering keystone of mankind is a marvel but we never get to see it explore it or feel its implications on the world around it. Instead it's cemented as a CG background behind the craze of Farrell shooting his way through hoards of bad guys.
Science fiction more than any other dramatic genre twist demands attention to the details. New worlds aren't built on broad strokes. But Total Recall tries to get away with it in hopes that audiences will recall their own movie knowledge to support its faulty logic. The movie repeatedly prompts viewers to think back to the 1990 version with blatant fan service that's absolutely nonsensical in this restructured version (no longer does Quaid go to Mars but there's still a three-breasted alien?). The callbacks may have given Total Recall a "been there done that" feel but rarely is it coherent enough to get that far. By the closing credits you'll be struggling to remember what you spent the last two hours watching.
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.
What will September bring?
Plenty, say the major TV networks as they begin their weekly series of meetings in New York known as the TV "upfront," hyping their 2001-02 TV schedules to advertisers. As much as 80 percent of next season's ad inventory is bought during this time.
NBC and the WB have announced their lineups, with ABC scheduled to make its presentation Tuesday.
NBC will shake things up a little. It has lessened its sitcom load by scheduling only eight comedy series, including three new sitcoms, the lowest the network has aired in two decades. Gone is the Sunday night movie, an NBC staple since the mid-1970s. It also is banking on its new primetime game show, The Weakest Link, to prosper. The Anne Robinson-hosted quizzer will remain at 8 p.m. Mondays while a second serving will now air at 8 p.m. Sundays.
A new sitcom with much to prove is Inside Schwartz, about a sports fan (Road Trip's Breckin Meyer) whose thoughts are revealed through conversations with sports figures. NBC will air it at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays following Friends, a time slot notorious for such failures as Jesse and The Single Guy. The series comes from the creators of Just Shoot Me and Mad About You. NBC is looking to combat the dent CBS' Survivor put in the famed NBC Thursday Must-See TV schedule, which was once virtually unbeatable with Friends kicking off the night. The rest of Thursday will remain the same with Will & Grace, Just Shoot Me and ER.
NBC also will add three new dramas, changing the schedules on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays while keeping Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays intact.
Mondays will lead off with The Weakest Link, with Third Watch moving to 9 p.m., followed by a new drama series, Crossing Jordan, with Jill Hennessy as a female coroner.
The new sitcom Emeril, to air 8 p.m. Tuesdays, stars the TV chef Emeril Lagasse in a "show-within-a-show" scenario. And in the 9:30 p.m. spot will be the last new sitcom, Scrubs, about hospital interns, from the makers of Spin City.
On Sundays, another extension of the Law & Order franchise, called Law & Order: Criminal Intent, will air at 9 p.m. UC: Undercover, about an elite unit at the U.S. Justice Department, will follow at 10 p.m.
Say goodbye to DAG, which starred Delta Burke and David Alan Grier; The Fighting Fitzgeralds, with Brian Dennehy; and the popular 3rd Rock from the Sun, which is in its final season.
Midseason candidates include a new comedy with Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus; another new sitcom, What Are You Thinking, starring Hank Azaria; and Leap of Faith; from the creators of HBO's Sex in the City.
Losing Buffy the Vampire Slayer to UPN was a major defection for the fledging WB. Now one of its other popular shows, Charmed, also may go through some unexpected changes.
The WB picked up Charmed for a new season, but Shannen Doherty, one of the three witches/sisters who call themselves "the power of three," is leaving the show after three seasons.
"We have had a long and prosperous relationship with Shannen and we didn't want to hold her back from what she wanted to do," Spelling Television, Charmed's producer, released in a statement. "We wish her all the best and much continued success."
"We hope to see her back on the network in the future," the WB added in its statement.
This is not the first time that Doherty has walked away from an Aaron Spelling-produced show. In 1994, Doherty fled Beverly Hills, 90210. Spelling welcomed Doherty back with open arms in 1998 when he cast her in Charmed.
Nan Sumsky, Spelling Television's director of series publicity, said Monday that it was unclear whether Doherty will be replaced. The show's two other costars, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs, will return.
"It would be hard to have a 'power of three' without a third," Sumsky added.
Still, the WB has negotiated multiple-year deals with four of its top-rated series: Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Felicity. The network also is keeping the Buffy spin-off Angel, but did not renew its option with the sci-fi show Roswell. UPN is now in serious negotiations to pick up Roswell.
New shows to be added to the WB's fall schedule include: Deep in the Heart, a sitcom starring Reba McEntire, and Smallville, a drama about the young Superman mythology. The WB also will launch a "reality wheel" on Sundays, with two new shows, Lost in the USA and No Boundaries.
Popular, Jack and Jill, Grosse Pointe and The Jamie Foxx Show, which recently aired its final episode, will not return.
Possible ABC fall schedule
Looks like ABC is weaning itself off of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire juggernaut, now that the writers strike has been averted. The Regis Philbin-hosted game show will now just air twice weekly come the fall.
The Alphabet Network is adding a variety of new and returning shows, with reality, sitcom and dramas among them. A few new sitcoms are planned, including Bob Patterson, about a motivational speaker, starring Jason Alexander, and a Jim Belushi-led family vehicle. There also will be a new Steven Bochco drama, Philly, starring Kim Delaney, to compliment the return of NYPD Blue. ABC also is relying on its reality programming, bringing back another installment of The Mole and a new show, The Runner. ABC will make its announcement Tuesday.
After nearly a week of trying to make contact with the $165 million Mars Polar Lander, scientists and NASA officials have all but given up the mission as a failure. Never an industry to shy away from big-money crap shoots, the motion picture community is putting a great deal of faith in a pair of Mars-related pictures that it hopes will generate substantially more interest and success than the recent NASA fiasco.
Disney is putting a great deal of time and strength behind its summer 2000 offering "Mission to Mars." Directed by Brian DePalma and starring Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Kim Delaney and Jerry O'Connell, "Mars" surrounds a seemingly failed manned mission to the red planet. As rescue operations are put in place, it is quickly discovered that an even greater menace may be waiting for them on Mars.
Competing for summer box office bucks in the Mars arena will be Warner Bros.' "Red Planet." Directed by Antony Hoffman and slated for a June 16 bow, "Red Planet" stars Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore and Terence Stamp in the story of a disastrous journey to Mars. While exploring the planet, most of the crew becomes stranded, leaving the ship's captain to decide whether to return to Earth without them or attempt a near-impossible rescue.
Much like the battle of the volcanoes a few years back, 2000 is shaping up to be the war for Martian domination. Yet while the interest in the current Mars debacle is something studio folks are not likely to overlook as the marketing machines begin to rev around these two high-profile features, Exhibitor Relations' Paul Dergarabedian is quick to point out that timing is still everything.
"I don't think [the Mars probe news] will have much effect on these films," he said. "Events in the news need to be timely to really have much impact on a film's success. Certainly it puts Mars in the minds of people."
With both studios taking a decidedly futuristic approach (both missions are manned, and the lives of the crew are quickly put in extreme danger), the films are hoping to bring audiences a great deal closer to the action than even a working space probe could ever dream of. Though the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's apparent failure and the fates of the crews in both films seem questionable, space exploration in cinema should still be a slam-dunk.
"People love this stuff," said Dergarabedian. "They eat it up. Each of these films has its strong selling points and will be marketed in their own special way."
As to the possibility that too much Mars might spell disaster for both at the box office, Dergarabedian sees no such reason to fret.
"Look at "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," he said. "These films came out very close to one another and still did tremendous business. Films with similar subject matter can do really well at the box office."
"Mission to Mars" is expected to launch March 10, and "Red Planet" expects to blast off June 16.