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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Emmy award-winning comedian Sara Schaefer, host of MTV's late show Nikki & Sara Live, will be blogging The Bachelorette for Hollywood.com all season long.
If you're like me, you've been watching The Bachelor/Bachelorette since the beginning. You can't tear yourself away season after season because, like they tell us in school, it only takes one time to become addicted to cocaine. In this scenario, of course, cocaine is the word "journey," and according to last night's premiere of The Bachelorette, this season is gonna be some gooooood s**t. Sean's fourth-place girlfriend Desiree Hartsock is going to be handing out roses this year and there are so many things to discuss I have decided to organize them in list form. (I wanted to do a PowerPoint but my editor tells me that won't work.)
10 Things I'm Looking Forward To On This Season of The Bachelorette
1. Man Tears
According to the previews, in addition to some sexy, sexy fist fights, these guys are gonna cry some sweet, sweet man tears! And if they don't produce full-on tears, they will put their heads down and rub their eyes and forehead to show how emotional this is. The heart? It shall be wrenched.
2. Remembering Jonathan's Love Tank
His time at the Bachelor mansion was short-lived, but Jonathan will stay vivid in my memories this season. This guy gets out of the limo and immediately asks Desiree to go to the fantasy suite. What fantasy suite? Aren't those usually located on a resort in the tropics? Anyway, she declines, but Jonathan won't be deterred. He repeatedly tries to get Desiree to go into this makeshift f**k room he's set up. And he keeps talking about how his "love tank has not been depleted for years" and that his mom thinks he's attractive. Hahahaha — that's normal! He doesn't want to wear Desiree's skin as a bathrobe, at all. Hahahahaha...
Finally, Desiree makes him leave before even going to the rose ceremony — but that doesn't mean Jonathan will soon be forgotten. I'm sure we'll hear from him soon... when he gets arrested for "depleting his love tank" on an unsuspecting woman at the mall.
3. Hashtag Douchebag
Kasey is a self-proclaimed "social media expert." But how can we be sure? Because he's constantly using the word "hashtag," naturally and organically during conversation! Examples from last night: "Hashtag I want a rose!" "Hashtag fantasy suite fail!"
Cool catchphrase, bro. Hashtag not. Hashtag good luck with that. Hashtag pack your bags. Hashtag okay, now I'm doing it. Hashtag sorry. Hashtag let's move on.
4. Finding Out What a "Drilling Fluid Engineer" Does, Other Than Go Topless
Zack, or as I like to call him, "the rich man's Situation," arrives topless to the mansion. He's got abs and Desiree is impressed when he strips down to his briefs and jumps in the pool. Meanwhile, I am just really curious as to what a "drilling fluid engineer" does. Sounds highly sexual. I mean complicated. What? Hi.
5. The Part When Desiree Realizes Ben Is a Weirdo for Using His Cute Son to Impress Her
Um, how AMAZING would it have been if right after that tiny kid got out of the limo, Chris Hansen stepped in and revealed that we were just watching a really elaborate episode of Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator"? No? OK. Well, regardless, even though Desiree seemed to love that Ben brought his son, I found it highly suspicious. I imagine Ben whispering into his son's ear before they got out, "Do NOT f**k this up for Daddy, you hear me?" And what was that explanation about the kid's mother — that they were just friends who had a baby? Hmmmm. That sounds like BS. And according to the preview, Ben seems to cause a lot of trouble in the house so let's just SEE.
6. Desiree's Emotional Journey
We know that Desiree is open to finding love. How do we know this? Because of a seven-outfit montage of her roller-skating, walking under a pier, sitting on the beach, and holding onto a railing while staring into the distance. We now know she's ready to share her life with someone. And it won't be easy. It will involve a lot of tears. And in the preview, we see that some MAJOR S**T is going to go down — there's one shot of her curled up in a ball crying, saying, "This is the worst possible scenario." Worst possible scenario? OMG JUAN PABLO GOT HER PREGNANT! Oh wait, no, oops, sorry — I forgot this is The Bachelorette, and the "worst possible scenario" usually involves one of the guys admitting he has a girlfriend back home or that he's only in it for the fame. THE TERROR!!! But according to all the french kissing they show, I am guessing she gets back on her feet in no time. I just can't wait for her brother to beat the piss out of whoever makes it to the end!
7. Finding Out Whose Girlfriend Shows Up
Awwwwww yeah! A girlfriend from the outside world shows up this season!!! HELL YES. That's some primo Bachelorette drama right there. I'd like to thank the producers in advance for their crack team of investigators for uncovering this one.
8. The Triumphant Return of Diogo
Diogo was ROBBED!!!! He showed up in a SUIT OF ARMOR for chrissake. Do you know how heavy that is? He put it all on the line for you, Desiree, and you just threw it all away. I really hope they find a way to bring Diogo back. If not, I'm thinking he's the next Bachelor??!!!? No? Oh well. Poor Diogo. We will remember you for the next few hours.
9. Finding Out Who Did That Bizarre Dance
Can someone please tell me — who was the guy we saw doing that insanely weird dance (it looked like a combo of Elvis and an '80s new wave move)? I couldn't see his face and I must know his identity in order to continue on this season. And I need a GIF of that STAT.
10. The Candlescaping
I have to say, whoever is doing this year's candlescaping on the show is doing a top notch job. Never before have I seen such beautiful arrangements of candles in and throughout the Bachelor compound. The mood has been set perfectly for the men to become vulnerable, open themselves to love, find out who is here for the right reasons, declare they're not here to make friends, borrow Desiree for a moment, and ultimately, fall in love and spend the rest of their lives with this woman. THE MOOD HAS BEEN SET!
Tune into The Bachelorette every Monday night at 8/7c on ABC and check Hollywood.com on Tuesdays for Sara Schaefer's reactions to the madness.
Sara Schaefer is a critically acclaimed stand up comedian, writer, and producer based in New York City. She is the co-host of MTV’s late night show Nikki & Sara Live. She won two Emmy awards for her work as the Head Blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and has written for BestWeekEver.tv and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Sara has appeared on Comedy Central, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Best Week Ever, FX, E!, Fuse, and AOL. She also has a popular podcast You Had To Be There with her MTV co-host Nikki Glaser.
Follow Sara on Twitter @saraschaefer1 | Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_com
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The basic premise of most crime revenge dramas is how much of our humanity we're willing to trade to get back what the other people — the ostensible baddies — have taken from us. Oliver Stone returns to this familiar stomping ground with Savages a splashy adaptation of Don Winslow's novel about a unique love affair a major marijuana-dealing business and an increasingly violent pissing match between two SoCal growers and the Baja Cartel.
Stone's frenetic visual style is in full swing but even this Oscar-winning auteur can't quite raise the film from mediocrity. It's hard to care whether or not Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) rescue their gorgeous mutual girlfriend O (Blake Lively) from the cartel if O isn't engaging enough to persuade us she's worth the bloodshed. O (short for Ophelia — an allusion to her earthshaking climaxes) is not a well-written character to begin with but she's even less engaging as played by Lively. Johnson is unconvincing as the bleeding heart Ben and the details his character is given — extra earrings a shoddy-looking tattoo on his neck even white boy dreads at one point — undercut his believability even more. Kitsch is given a few prominent scars and a mean squint but he doesn't quite bring the weird slightly empty vibe of Chon to life.
On the villain side Benicio Del Toro chews every inch of scenery from Laguna Beach to Tijuana as Lado. He's rocking an intense moustache that he strokes when he's lying or being a creep (which is most of the time) a vaguely mullet-like wig and a fondness for torture. Salma Hayek takes no prisoners as the head of the cartel nicknamed Elena la Reina who is both a frustrated mom whose college-age daughter is blowing her off (aw!) and a brutally tough woman in a man's world. John Travolta definitely enjoys a bit of Pulp Fiction ridiculousness as Dennis a DEA official who's in Ben and Chon's pocket. It's hard to tell just how funny Savages is aiming to be. Lado Elena and Dennis are cartoonish but Ben Chon and O are earnest — which is to say a little bit boring.
The double- and triple-crossing is practically moot as is the wacky technology that Ben and Chon employ; it's like The Social Network meets surfers. The real meat of the movie is the flash and violence but it's not the kind of thing that stays with you like Stone's Natural Born Killers. Savages doesn't have the same lingering aftertaste. It's not that a movie needs to have some sort of message with its pointed commentary on the media's bloodlust but the gist of Savages — that we're all savages at heart or that we can easily become a savage given the right circumstances — is not that interesting or unique.
Oddly enough Savages pulls a few punches when it comes to its source material (hard to believe when the movie kicks off with a glimpse of an abattoir-like enclosure and close-ups of men begging for their lives just as a chainsaw revs in the background). Winslow's book is a quick enjoyable read with an interesting on-page style that's hard to replicate verbally. It has a sort of ADD-addled feel that the movie tries to but doesn't quite capture. While it's not always fair to compare an adaptation to the book it's based on Winslow is both the author and one of the screenplay writers so some of the choices made behind the scenes don't quite add up. Cut are significant and menacing back story for Lado and all of the zestiness out of O. Why add in certain plot points and take out others unless it was to give one of its big name stars more screen time? The most interesting part of the story the love story is treated like a wink wink homoerotic thing than an actual relationship between three people who adore each other which is how it's portrayed in the book. It's hard not to be a little disappointed especially given Stone's no-f**ks-given attitude. (Or as O would say baditude.)
That said it is a somewhat entertaining diversion and a nice tour of lifestyles of the rich and criminal. Lively is all tangled tan limbs and luxurious hippie clothes and the homes they frequent whether on Laguna Beach or a desert compound are meticulously decorated with exquisite expensive taste. Santa Muerte imagery also figures heavily in the background of many scenes. The scenery is gorgeous — even the marijuana looks amazing. It's good for adults to have another R-rated choice in what's usually a season dominated by blockbusters but in years to come you'll more likely to reach for your old True Romance DVD than Savages.
Burger King employees better watch out for Jon Hamm, according to Kim Kardashian’s best bud Jonathan Cheban. Cheban sides with Kardashian in the ongoing feud that she has with Hamm.
Hamm needs to “really just shut up and stop being such a Mad Man ... He needs to mind his own business,” Cheban told Hollywood.com at the Ocean Drive party at the Shelborne hotel in Miami, Florida on March 20. “Kim’s been on TV for 12 seasons — Mad Men’s a great show, but it’s on a smaller network, and they have a small audience."
Then the “Whopper” came next (pun intended). “Put Jon Hamm in a mall and people will go up to more people working at a Burger King than they will to him,” he said. “Bring Kim to a mall and there’ll be a riot. That’s what it is and that’s society ... We’ll see what he does after Mad Men.”
For fans wanting to know how Kourtney Kardashian is doing, Cheban said well — and that he was just at her house a few weeks back.
“Scott [Kourtney's baby daddy] is one of my best friends, and she’s doing great,” Cheban shared. “They are the most fun couple, it’s always something different with them.”
Cheban is busy as can be with a new “secret” project he is pitching in LA next week, dating this girl Catherine in Miami, a new clothing line BATTE, jewelry line JETSET, even a liquor line. If he finds time, Big Brother, Mob Wives and other reality shows are his guilty pleasures. “I can’t get into scripted [TV] anymore!” Cheban admitted.
It sounds like Mad Men doesn't stand a chance with Cheban.
Despite what the trailer might have you believe In the Land of Women isn't exactly a sweet sigh-inducing romance. Yes main character Carter Webb (Adam Brody)--a slightly snarky screenwriter who makes his living writing soft-core porn--leaves Hollywood for Michigan to get over a hard break-up by taking care of his aging tart-tongued grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). And yes he subsequently ends up getting entangled with angsty blond teenager Lucy Hardwicke (Kristen Stewart) and her lonely mom Sarah (Meg Ryan). But the trio's tenuous relationships are complicated by confusion resentment illness and misunderstanding all of which add up to a situation that's hardly straightforward--and frankly not all that romantic either. Brody is no stranger to playing sarcastic pop culture-savvy Southern Californians: After four seasons on The O.C. as Seth Cohen he's got the type down pat. As Carter he balances wry quips with a nice dose of empathy--you can tell that he truly cares about both Lucy and Sarah (not to mention his grandma as crusty as she is). But to be honest it's a little hard to see why. Stewart plays Lucy with a shy sullenness that's not very endearing--she gets a little more animated toward the end but it's too little too late--and Ryan's trademark perkiness has worn thin. She gives Sarah's dramatic scenes her best shot but the character's confusion and pain don't seem at home on her unnaturally tight face. Dukakis gets in a few zingers as Grandma Phyllis but the character is essentially one-note--as is Lucy's sister Paige (Makenzie Vega) who swiftly goes from "cutely precocious" to "awkward yapping." In many ways Paige seems like a character lifted out of the John Hughes playbook which isn't that surprising given Carter's fascination with the '80s director's oeuvre--and the movie's Hughes-ian high school subplot. Unfortunately the "classic" high school movie scenes (the party Lucy takes Carter to their movie outing at the mall her dawning realization at the end etc.) while fun for folks who grew up watching the movies they're obviously inspired by have a light tone that's jarring compared to the rest of the film's drama. When it comes down to it Carter--who's looking for a reason to stop drifting through life--has a lot more in common with Garden State's Andrew Largeman than Hughes heroes like Ferris Bueller and John Bender. Trying to squeeze him into a teen-centric story rather than focusing on helping him grow up doesn't do him--or the movie--any favors.