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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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Punk'd returned March 29 and one thing is for sure: it's the same as it every was.
Apart from a few bells and whistles (see: exploding yachts), the series is relatively the same, pitting unknown actors against our favorite celebs and coaxing them into a terrifying faux debacles. But it's time to start paying attention to some of those unknown actors. When Punk'd first hit the television waves, it came with a dose of budding talent. And seeing what a few of these now-familiar faces managed after spending their time posing as crooked driving instructors and Santa's helpers, it can't be that long until one of the new "field agents" winds up with his or her own TV show.
1. Bill Hader
You know him as one of the funniest actors on Saturday Night Live, famous for his Vincent Price impression and his misguided New York expert, Stefon, but Hader started out by convincing Ashlee Simpson she'd ruined a priceless painting on Ashton Kutcher's MTV series. Facebook - Ashlee Simpson - Punk d
2. Kaitlin Olson The actress now known as Sweet Dee from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia first appeared as a lowly Christmas elf when Kutcher punked Beyonce into thinking she ruined a children's Christmas celebration. Despicable, right? Apparently not much has changed. (Skip to 5:33 to see Olson punk Bey.) Get More: Punk'd, Full Episodes
3. B.J. Novak
He pay be the punk on NBC's The Office, but he started out as the punk trying to teach Hilary Duff to drive.
4. Stephen Rannazzisi You may now know Rannazzisi as the all-time fantasy league lose on FX's The League, but there was a time when his job was irritating celebs. Check out the first prank in the embed below to see the funnyman in his early role. Punk'd - MTV Shows - Full Episodes
5. Dax Shepard
Last, but not least, we have Shepard, whose appearance is likely more memorable than these other TV stars. He did a little buck naked aerobics for Jessica Alba long before he joined NBC's Parenthood or started giving sloths to his now-wife Kristen Bell.
Get More: Punk'd, Full Episodes
Kristen Bell Loses Her Mind Over a Baby Sloth
Video: Khloe Kardashian's Gross Punk'd Prank
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the low-budget, low-concept, low-brow FX series about five lowlifes with low ambitions, low morals and low standards for living. As for the quality? Miles high. The series follows Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Frank (Danny DeVito), the co-owners of a Philadelphia Irish pub, in their misanthropic, unscrupulous and often felonious day-to-day lives. Episodes often touch upon (or tackle outright) sociopolitical issues, significant items in pop culture and, in one instance, American history. Although they do balance it out with an entire episode devoted to human excrement, so there you go.
Why You're Not Watching
It Looks Like it Costs $20 to Make an Episode
As a matter of fact, in some instances, it has. Fans of the show might be familiar with the story behind the first episode: when Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton shot a pilot for the show (back then titled It’s Always Sunny on TV), the only money spent for the shoot was the cost of the tapes. Every episode since has maintained the same aesthetic (it is probably more consistent, visually, than any other sitcom I can recall). Plus, the gang rarely traverses to any high-budget locations. They mainly stay in the bar, Charlie's squalid apartment, or the grungy streets of Philadelphia.
It Seems Like They’re All Playing the Same Character
Lewd, selfish, ignorant—yes. Everyone on It’s Always Sunny embodies (and embraces) each of these, and other less-than-admirable, characteristics. But just because they’re all bad, loudmouthed people doesn’t mean they’re not each unique. Dennis is a guiltless narcissist whose entire identity is tied up in his physical appearance. Mac is a brutish man-child perpetually trying to prove himself a “badass” (in a subconscious attempt to impress his estranged father). Dee is a painfully insecure, unhappy and bitter woman, who masks her pain by being vindictive and self-righteous. Frank is a deadbeat, Machiavellian sleaze-ball who is actively trying to descend into depravity and madness after a much-regretted life of marriage and financial success. And Charlie (oh Charlie…) is a mentally-ill, multi-phobic and constantly-livid moron who's obsessively attached to his lifestyle of squalor, debauchery and idiocy... and he's one hell of a scene-stealer.
It’s Just a Lot of Yelling, Cursing and Stupidity
There is, in your defense, a good deal of yelling, cursing, and (on the characters’ parts, not the show’s) stupidity. Those convinced that this is all there is to the show, however, have probably not watched more than a scene or two at a time. Just about every episode takes on some contemporary political issue or cultural phenomenon for the purposes of lampooning.
What You're Missing
Legitimately Poignant Sociopolitical Satire
Seriously. Granted, they’re not that subtle about it (episode titles include “Charlie Wants an Abortion,” “The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation,” “The Gang Goes Jihad” and the like), but It’s Always Sunny has taken on a slew of contemporary political issues with some interesting viewpoints, often highlighting the hypocrisy in both sides of an issue. "The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis" is possibly the best example of this, and one of the most iconic Sunny episodes thanks to its illustration of the "Brains, Looks, Wildcard" dynamic (I'm not explaining it further as provocation to get you to watch out of curiosity). The episode lampooned oil companies, the Middle East, the far left, the far right, then-President George W. Bush, and the average American, all the while working in the Ghostbusters theme during one of the best climactic scenes in sitcom history.
The Stars are the Creators, Writers and Producers
That may not sound like an inherent pro, but it is. The more involved the originators of a show’s idea are in its development/production, the better the show is. It stays truer to the form it was meant to take, but that doesn't mean it's not impervious to evolution; It’s Always Sunny’s characters have undoubtedly developed significantly since the first and second seasons. McElhenney, Day and Howerton write, direct and produce many of the episodes together, and the quality pervades: the episodes they create together are generally the strongest of the series.
Frequent Additions to the Public Lexicon
What pop culture essentials has It's Always Sunny spawned? Let's make a list... Kitten Mittens (...you'll be smitten)Who is Pepe Sylvia?Green Man (this is beyond just a verbal phenomenon; people do this now)WILD CARD!Do the words "Champion of the Sun" mean anything to you?
The Bottom Line
It's More than a Show: It'll Pervade Your Social Life
This is simply the most raucous and wily series on television. Watching It's Always Sunny is a group activity: not only will you laugh louder and longer, you'll also inevitably end up assigning character roles to yourself and your friends (it's guaranteed that everyone will want to be the "Wild Card," but until you throw yourself in front of a moving car to make a quick buck, you just don't have it in you). All in all, it's one of the most energetic, quotable and fun comedies on television today, and it deserves way more credit than it is often given. And if that's not enough for you, they've got some pretty catch songs, too.