Fake deaths, fake alliances, fake people who are really aliens; there are so many ways to deliver a brilliant plot twist. But there’s nothing like a pregnancy – feigned or real – to take a story in a whole new direction. If you saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire one weekend, then watched new episodes of ABC’s Revenge and CBS’s The Good Wife, you may have noticed a trend. If someone gets knocked up, or pretends to get knocked up, it’s a total game changer. Let’s discuss why ... and BTW: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Katniss & Peeta Get Faux Pregs
Everything changes in Catching Fire when Peeta announces that Katniss is totally pregnant by him, right before they head back into the arena. It hardly even matters that she’s not actually carrying his baby, all that matters is that the people of the Capitol believe him, and it feels so real! The thought of someone actually playing the Hunger Games whilst carrying a child is so horrifying – and brilliant Peeta totally knew this. In a world where even children are unprotected and forced to murder each other for entertainment, somehow an unborn child was able to tug at the strings of an otherwise heartless society.
Emily Thorne Knows How To Keep/Trap A Man
As season three of Revenge soldiers on, Emily Thorne’s plot against the Grayson family gets more and more twisted. Not only is she pretending to be in love with Daniel and playing the perfect fiancé, but when she saw him slipping away from her, she threw a total monkey wrench into the game plan. The words “I’m pregnant” changed everything, and pretty much negated any thoughts Daniel had of leaving. Then there’s the part where she plans to frame the incomparable Victoria Grayson for her impending fake murder, which will be all the more dramatic since everyone now thinks she’s carrying the next Grayson baby. It’s such a slimy move, but all’s fair in love and revenge!
Peter Florrick: Are YOU The Father?!
The 100th episode of The Good Wife was a total game changer. We’d all been watching Peter’s beautiful ethics lawyer Marilyn Garbanza walking around with a burgeoning baby bump (and small garbage pails, for the occasional bout of morning sickness), when she suddenly revealed that she was naming her baby ... Peter?! Now this pregnancy is real (we assume), but it has introduced an amazing plot twist in an already amazing season. Eli’s epic spit take (in reaction to Marilyn’s baby name) tells us that he’s thinking what we’re thinking. But is Peter really her baby daddy? We’ll have to wait and see. If so, this changes everything! What will become of Alicia and Peter? Alicia and Will? And what about poor Eli? We know his nerves won’t be able to handle such madness. All of which proves once again that pregnancy is a scary, scary, life-changing thing.
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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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Making an earnest cinematic argument for the immortality of the soul and the existence of an afterlife without delving into mushy sentimentality is a difficult task for even the most gifted and “serious” of filmmakers. Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson discovered as much last year when his sappy grandiose adaptation of the ethereal bestseller The Lovely Bones opened to scathing reviews. Critics by and large tend to bristle at movie renderings of what may or may not await them in that Great Arthouse in the Sky.
And yet filmmakers seem determined to keep trying. The latest to make the attempt is Clint Eastwood who throughout his celebrated directorial career has certainly demonstrated a firm grasp of the death part of the equation. His filmography with a few notable exceptions practically revels in it: of his recent oeuvre Invictus is the only work that doesn’t deal with mortality in some significant manner. With his new film Hereafter Eastwood hopes to add immortality to his thematic resume.
The film's narrative centers on three characters each of whom has intimate experience with death and loss. Their stories in true Eastwood fashion can ostensibly be labeled Sad Sadder and Saddest: Marie (Cecile de France) is a French TV news anchor who’s haunted by disturbing flashbacks after she loses consciousness — and briefly her life — during a natural disaster; George (Matt Damon looking credibly schlubby) is a former psychic whose skills as a medium are so potent (the slightest touch from another human being triggers an instant powerful psychic connection a la Rogue from X-Men) they’ve left him isolated and alone; Marcus is a London schoolboy who retreats into a somber shell after losing his twin brother in a tragic car accident (both brothers are played rather impressibly by real-life twins Frankie and George McLaren).
Humanity offers little help to these troubled souls surrounding them with skeptics charlatans users and deadbeats none of whom are particularly helpful with crises of an existential nature. Luckily there are otherworldly options. Peter Morgan's script assumes psychics out-of-body experiences and other such phenomena to be real and legitimate but in a non-denominational Coast-to-Coast AM kind of way. Unlike Jackson’s syrupy CGI-drenched glimpses of the afterlife Eastwood’s visions of the Other Side are vague and eery — dark fuzzy silhouettes of the departed set against a white background. Only Damon’s character George seems capable of drawing meaning from them which is why he’s constantly sought out by grief-stricken folks desperate to make contact with loved ones who’ve recently passed on. He’s John Edward only real (and not a douche).
Marie and Marcus appear destined to find him as well but only as the last stop on wearisome circuitous and often heartbreaking spiritual journeys that together with George’s hapless pursuit of a more temporal connection (psychic ability it turns out can be a wicked cock-blocker) consume the bulk of Hereafter’s running time. We know the three characters’ paths must inevitably intersect but Morgan’s script stubbornly forestalls this eventuality testing our patience for nearly two ponderous and maudlin hours and ultimately building up expectations for a climax Eastwood can’t deliver at least not without sacrificing any hope of credulity.
It should be noted that Hereafter features a handful of genuinely touching moments thanks in great part to the film's tremendous cast. And its finale is refreshingly upbeat. Unfortunately it also feels forced and terribly unsatisfying. Eastwood an established master of all things tragic and forlorn struggles mightily to mount a happy ending. (Which in my opinion is much more challenging than a sad or ambiguous one.) After prompting us to seriously ponder life’s ultimate question Eastwood’s final answer seems to be: Don’t worry about it.
In an unnamed South American country idealistic U.S. engineer Peter Bowman ("The Green Mile's" David Morse) is nabbed and held for ransom by Marxist guerrillas. Enter Australian kidnapping expert Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) assigned to help Peter's desperate wife Alice (Meg Ryan) deal with the crisis. Greedy corporate maneuvering leads the insurance company that employs Terry to wash its hands of the case but the hero decides to stay on the job anyway. Hey it's Meg Ryan we're talking about!
Crowe follows up "Gladiator" with another commanding star turn that should dispel any remaining doubts that Hollywood has found its next big screen hero. With no opportunity to utilize her trademark gift for comedy Ryan goes into her unexciting dramatic actress mode as a standard stressed-out loved one. Of the solid supporting players former "NYPD Blue" dick David Caruso makes the strongest impression as Terry's manic hostage-extracting colleague.
Taylor Hackford ("The Devil's Advocate") capably pushes the film through familiar territory borrowing licks from such diverse pictures as "Missing" and "Rambo" before lifting the ending of a certain beloved classic (no we're not saying which). He and frequent screenwriting collaborator Tony Gilroy set up a realistic situation loaded with natural suspense though one might have expected the director of "An Officer and a Gentleman" to work the romantic attraction between Terry and Alice to more sizzling effect. A few unnecessarily complicated plot twists rob the story of momentum leading into the surprisingly hard-core action finale - the main reason the flick stretches to an enthusiasm-taxing 135 minutes.
Gov. Schwarzenegger back for more Terminator action?
That's what the producers of the fourth Terminiator installment, which is now in full development, are hoping. "We're certainly talking to Arnold and his people," Dennis Higgins, a spokesman for financing partner Intermedia, told Reuters. "He obviously has a day job that he has to take into consideration. But we're talking to him." Schwarzenegger's "day job," of course, is running the state of California. The governor's personal financial advisor Paul Wachter told Reuters, "It is not even on our radar screen…Arnold is signing bills." He did not rule a possible cameo appearance but added, "Is it is realistic that while he is in office, he takes a starring role? Hardly." Talks also are under way with Terminator 3 director Jonathan Mostow to return for the next sequel. The Terminator series ranks as one of the most successful film franchises ever. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, grossed more than $500 million worldwide after its 1991 release, while T3 generated $430 million at the global box office.
Costner weds for the second time
Oscar-winning actor/director Kevin Costner married his longtime girlfriend, Christine Baumgartner, Saturday in Aspen, Colo., Reuters reports, and the couple plan to honeymoon in Scotland. This is the first marriage for Baumgartner, 30, and the second for Costner, 49, who was divorced in 1994. Costner has three children with his former wife, Cindy.
Olsens get big advance from Warners
Warner Home Video has cut a new 10-year distribution deal with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's Dualstar Video that calls for WHV to pay the twins an eight-figure advance against future net proceeds from sales of Olsen home videos, Dualstar CEO Robert Thorne told the Hollywood Reporter. "I believe that this upfront payment demonstrates the international growth potential that the Mary-kateandashley [sic] brand has, not only domestically but overseas," Thorne said. The Olsen twins have sold about 40 million home video units worldwide to date. The direct-to-video release Our Lips Are Sealed leads the list with about 3 million combined VHS and DVD units sold worldwide since its November 2000 release, followed by Winning London, which has sold more than 2 million combined VHS and DVD units since its March 2001 release, according to the Reporter.
Jackson's life studied by scholars
Michael Jackson's life and career has now become an academic subject for scholars, believe it or not. Eighteen scholars from U.S. universities met last week at Yale University to discuss sexual, racial and artistic aspects of Jackson's life and music, the Associated Press reports. Jackson "in many ways is the black male crossover artist of the 20th century," said Seth Clark Silberman, who teaches about race and gender at Yale. "He has grown up in front of us, so we have a great investment in him, even though some people today may find his image disturbing." Other universities have hosted conferences about Madonna and other pop stars, Silberman told AP. The conference avoided details of the child molestation case against Jackson in California, but it did look at how the media has reported on the case.
Downey moves into music
Actor Robert Downey Jr. plans to enter the world of music. He has signed an exclusive recording contract with the Sony Classical label, AP reports, and will release his first CD Nov. 23. "Robert is a brilliantly gifted songwriter who writes lyrics that are wise and moving," Sony Classical President Peter Gelb told AP Wednesday in a statement. "His burnished, smoky voice is an expressive and touching medium for the songs that he has written." Downey, 39, has written songs for three of his films (Too Much Sun, Two Girls and a Guy and Friends & Lovers) and sang during his 2000 stint on the TV show Ally McBeal.
Judge rules in favor of bootleg recordings
Looks like you'll be able to get bootleg recordings of your favorite live performances. AP reports U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. dismissed a federal indictment of Jean Martignon, who runs a Manhattan mail order and Internet business that sells bootleg recordings, striking down a 1994 law banning the sale of bootleg recordings of live music. Baer ruled the law unfairly grants "seemingly perpetual protection" to the original performances. While Baer said the bootleg law was written by Congress in the spirit of federal copyright law, which protects writing for a fixed period of time--typically for the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death, the law, which was passed "primarily to cloak artists with copyright protection," could not stand because it places no time limit on the ban. Baer also noted that copyright law protects "fixed" works--such as books or recorded music releases--while bootlegs, by definition, are of live performances.
Wall Street stud-boy Brad (Brian Van Holt) wannabe lady-killer Zeke (Zorie Barber) and sensitive wank-addict Jonathan (Jonathan Abrahams) talk big trash about "scamming" female conquests. Then they meet their match when each independently gets involved with fantasy love interest Mia (Amanda Peet) in the span of a single week. Ignoring the wild improbability of this actually happening the fellas blunder into an unwieldy four-way romance that puts severe strains on their friendship -- not to mention the film's believability.
Charismatic newcomers Van Holt Barber and Abrahams get into the spirit of the piece gamely soldiering through an uneven stream of bathroom and penis jokes and other indignities in various stages of undress. Judah Domke ("Spanking the Monkey") scores some of the funniest moments as a long-suffering married pal who now gets his jollies following the other guys' bedroom exploits. Toothy rising star Peet (TV's "Jack & Jill") has less success with the blandly written role of Mia providing no clue as to what the boys are so excited about.
Writer-director-producer Peter M. Cohen's energetic debut feature builds up a promising head of steam early on only to have things fall apart once the painfully predictable direction of the plot becomes clear. The guys' "Diner"-style yammering (much of it yes in a diner!) is hit-or-miss lacking the wit of "Swingers" or the ribald comic invention of "American Pie." With the exception of some truly inspired bits featuring Domke's character the likable leads have to work for every naughty inch.