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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
They say if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, so it's no wonder the 50th Annual New York Film Festival is enjoying so many buzzed about films in its lineup, which was recently announced. Aside from the previously announced opening and closing night films — Ang Lee's Life of Pi, which will open the festival with NYFF's first-ever 3-D screening, and Robert Zemeckis' Flight — NYFF has laid out 32 films to be screened at this year's fest. And the list includes a few projects you've probably already caught wind of.
The Bill Murray-starrer Hyde Park on the Hudson is the film in which the classic comic actor takes on Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cineophiles who've been waiting patiently to see the winner of the Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or can rejoice because Amour is also gracing the long list of films hitting New York's Lincoln Center. Other highlights include Christina Hendricks as an unhappy mother in Ginger and Rosa and Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in Brian DePalma's erotic thriller Passion.
Check out the full 2012 lineup and check back in September for coverage from Hollywood.com:
Amour (directed by Michael Haneke)
Araf—Somewhere In Between (Yesim Ustaoglu)
Barbara (Christian Petzold)
Beyond the Hills/Dupa dealuri (Cristian Mungiu)
Bwakaw (Jun Robles Lana)
Camille Rewinds/Camille Redouble (Noémie Lvovsky)
Caesar Must Die/Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani)
The Dead Man and Being Happy/El muerto y ser feliz (Javier Rebollo)
Fill the Void/Lemale et ha’chalal (Rama Burshtein)
First Cousin Once Removed (Alan Berliner)
Flight (Robert Zemeckis)
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
The Gatekeepers/Shomerei Ha’saf (Dror Moreh)
Ginger and Rosa (Sally Potter)
Here and There/Aquí y Allá (Antonio Méndez Esparza)
Holy Motors (Léos Carax)
Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Michell)
Kinshasa Kids (Marc-Henri Wajnberg)
The Last Time I Saw Macao/A Última Vez Que Vi Macau (João Pedro Rodrigues)
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor)
Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)
Lines of Wellington/Linhas de Wellington (Valeria Sarmiento)
Memories Look at Me/Ji Yi Wang Zhe Wo (Song Fang)
Night Across the Street/La Noche de enfrente (Raul Ruiz)
No (Pablo Larrain)
Not Fade Away (David Chase)
Our Children/À perdre la raison (Joachim Lafosse)
Passion (Brian de Palma)
Something in the Air/Après Mai (Olivier Assayas)
Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet/Vous n’avez encore rien vu (Alain Resnais)
NYFF kicks off Sept. 28 at New York's Lincoln Center.
[Photo Credit: Fox 2000]
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Of the three new releases to open wide this four-day holiday weekend, Jerry Bruckheimer's down under comedy Kangaroo Jack leaped to the top of the box office, followed closely by the Martin Lawrence vehicle National Security. There was nothing fanciful, however, about the romantic comedy A Guy Thing, which opened to an uninspiring seventh place.
Kangaroo Jack, about two Brooklynites who are forced to deliver mob money to Australia but lose the loot to a maniacal marsupial, took in $17.6 million*, while National Security safeguarded $15.7 million.
In its second week, Just Married, which captured audience's hearts and the No. 1 spot last week, fell to third place with a still chivalrous $12.4 million.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came in fourth with $11.3 million, while Catch Me If You Can almost caught up with $11.3 million, trailing only by $75,000. The much talked about musical Chicago, which expanded to 557 screens this weekend, came in sixth with $8 million.
A Guy Thing 's mushy $7.1 million take, meanwhile, coldheartedly placed the romance in seventh place.
Two of Miramax's limited releases, the Brazilian drama City of God and George Clooney's directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, played in five theaters each, and both enjoyed this week's highest per theater averages. City of God averaged $18,000 per theater, while Confessions averaged $16,400.
THE TOP TEN
(NOTE: Today's projections are for the three-day period from Friday-Sunday. The studios will issue four-day estimates on Monday, when America observes the birthday of Martin Luther King, with final data due out on Tuesday.)
Warner Bros.' Kangaroo Jack opened with an ESTIMATED $17.6 million at 2,818 theaters ($6,272 per theater).
Directed by David McNally, it stars Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson and Estella Warren.
The PG rated film, written by Elizabeth Hurley impregnator Steve Bing, focuses on two Brooklynites who are forced to deliver $50,000 in cash to a mobster living in Australian. But a kangaroo with a plan of his own gets hold of the dough, forcing the two to track him across the outback.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated action comedy National Security came in second with an ESTIMATED $15.7 million take at 2,729 theaters.
Directed by Dennis Dugan, it stars Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn.
The buddy actioner revolves around two L.A.P.D. rejects who are partnered as security guards and end up uncovering a sophisticated smuggling operation led by crooked cops.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Just Married honeymooned in third place with an ESTIMATED $12.4 million (-29%) at 2,729 theaters (+3 theaters, $4,496 per theater). Its cume is approximately $34 million.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy sequel The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers dropped to fourth place in its fifth week, with an ESTIMATED $11.3 million (-23%) at 3,110 theaters (-367 theaters; $3,658 per theater). Its cume is approximately $298.9 million, heading for $300 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen.
DreamWork's PG-13 rated crime biopic Catch Me If You Can fell two rungs to fifth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $11.3 million (-23%) at 3,050 theaters (-175 theaters; $3,705 per theater). Its cume is approximately $135 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax's PG-13 rated musical Chicago expanded in its fourth week to a solid ESTIMATED $8 million at 557 theaters (+195 theaters). Its $14,363 per theater was the highest of any Top 10 film this weekend. Its cume is approximately $27.7 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
MGM's PG-13 rated romantic comedy A Guy Thing opened in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $7.1 million at 2,515 theaters ($2,828 per theater).
In the film, a groom-to-be wakes up with a beautiful stranger in his bed after his bachelor party and, not remembering what happened, proceeds to try to cover up the evil deed he can imagine himself having done.
Directed by Chris Koch, it stars Jason Lee, Julia Stiles, Selma Blair and James Brolin.
New Line Cinema's R rated comedy About Schmidt slipped to eighth place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.6 million (-2%) at 946 theaters (+81 theaters; $6,633 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.1 million.
Directed by Alexander Payne, it stars Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates.
Paramount Picture's PG-13 rated The Hours climbed to the ninth spot this week with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (+421%) at 402 theaters (+357 theaters, $11,754 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.4 million.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, it stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Claire Danes.
Rounding out the Top 10 was Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice, which dropped six slots with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-40%) at 2,240 theaters (-515 theaters; $1,830 per theater). Its cume is approximately $85 million.
Directed by Marc D. Lawrence, it stars Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Miramax's R rated Brazilian drama City of God. The film opened with an ESTIMATED $90,000 at in five theaters, with a stunning $18,000 per theater average, the highest average of any film this week.
The film revolves around Cidade de Deus (City of God), a housing project built in the 1960s that--in the early 80s--became one of the most dangerous places in Rio de Janeiro.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, it stars Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino De Hora Phellipe, Seu Jorge and Jonathan Haagensen.
Miramax's other limited-release film, the R-rated biopic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind pushed back its wide release until next week, settling over the holiday weekend for an ESTIMATED $82,000 at five theaters ($16,400 per theater).
Dirceted by George Clooney, it stars Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and Clooney.
The top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $105.9 million, down 2.64 percent from last weekend when they totaled $108.7 million.
The top 12 were up a measly 0.668 percent from last year when they totaled $105.1 million.
Last year, Sony's R rated Black Hawk Down dominated the box office in its fourth week with $28.6 million at 3,101 theaters ($10,844 per theater); Buena Vistas' opening week of Snow Dogs was second with $17.8 million at 2,302 theaters ($10,299 per theater); and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came in third in its fifth week with $15.28 million at 3,266 theaters ($4,675 per theater).