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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Returning Series: The Walking Dead
Premiere Date: Sunday, Oct. 14 at 9pm ET
Number of Seasons On the Air: This will be The Walking Dead's third season on the air, but so far we've only seen a few episodes with new showrunner Glen Mazzara.
You’d Like It If…: You don't mind depressing, post-apocalyptic scenarios. You find dystopias to be fascinating. You enjoy the intense, morally ambiguous debates about how to govern a government-less society on shows like Fringe and Battlestar Galactica, but think both of those shows would benefit from more gore.
You’d Hate It If…: You like all of your zombie fare to be as fast-paced as, say, 28 Days Later. Walking Dead can be a slow burn. Also, if you're not a horror fan.
Walking Dead’s Formula: Day of the Dead's zombies meet Battlestar Galactica's band of lost, aimless misfits meets Dallas' southern accents meets The Road's horrifying portrayal of human-on-human post-apocalyptic violence.
Ratings: Pretty damn sexy for a cable series. Last year's finale brought in 9 million viewers, which is like four times the amount of your average NBC comedy.
Accolades: None of the actors have received any Emmy love, but the series has won for its makeup and prosthetics two years in a row. In 2011, Walking Dead received a Golden Globe Best TV Drama Series nom. Not bad!
Where The Walking Dead Left Off: Phew. Got a sec? After an attack on Hershel's farm (which resulted in the deaths of a few of his many family members), Andrea was separated from the gang, and eventually teamed up with badass newcomer Michonne. Rick told the rest of the Grimes Gang — who congregated on an abandoned highway — that he had killed Shane, and that the walker virus had infected all of them. In Walking Dead speak, that means that even dying a natural death will turn people into zombies. Not. Cool. As the show faded to credits, a large prison was shown, looming in the background.
Where The Walking Dead Is Headed: To prison! Most of the Grimes Gang will battle walkers in the aforementioned prison, where they'll find, at least temporarily, some cots, food, and protection. Andrea and Michonne will eventually meet up with the mysterious new villain, the Governor, who has developed some sort of utopian village amidst all of the chaos. Of course, nothing in the village will be as it seems. We still don't know when these two plotlines will intersect, but Norman Reedus told us that they definitely will at some point this season.
Cast: Where do I start? We have Brit Andrew Lincoln as Rick, the former Sheriff charged with making most of the impossible moral decisions on the show. Sarah Wayne Callies is his pregnant wife, Lori, who had an affair with Rick's recently deceased, former best friend Shane. Chandler Riggs is their son Carl, who wears a stupid hat and does stupid things. Steven Yeun is the priceless Glenn, Lauren Cohan is Glenn's new ladylove, Maggie, Scott Wilson is Maggie's dad, Hershel, and Emily Kinney is Maggie's frequently suicidal sister, Beth. Laurie Holden is the long-suffering Andrea, who has teamed up with newcomer Danai Gurira's Michonne. Rounding out the gang are IronE Singleton as T-Dog, who maybe has one line per episode, and Melissa McBride as Carol, who lost her daughter Sophia after a painfully long search last season. David Morrissey will join the cast later this season as The Governor, one of the comics' main antagonists, who leads another pack of survivors. Oh, but wait, and am I forgetting someone? Oh yes, Norman Reedus stars as Daryl Dixon, the most badass, wonderful, crossbow-wielding character on the show. We love him. We love him so much.
High Point: The final three episodes of last season, which almost made up for the torturous pace of the entire first half of the season (see below). First was the impossible debate over executing teenage prisoner Randall, then there was the heartbreaking death of father figure Dale. That was week one. Then came Shane's final betrayal — convinced that he would be a better father and leader than Rick, he led him into the woods for a good old fashioned murder. Rick got to him first, stabbing him to death. Rick's young son, Carl, was watching the whole time, and when he shot the newly zombie-fied Shane in the head, a massive number of walkers headed their way. Eek! This led to an epic finale, where the gang (arguably) won the battle at Hershel's farm, and learned that they would all be walkers one day. Rough.
Low Point: The first seven episodes of last season. We love Frank Darabont, but dedicating seven episodes to the search for a minor character — while nothing else happened — was an epic fail. By the end, the reveal that she was a zombie in Hersel's barn the whole time wasn't even that shocking.
Who To Watch It With: Your significant other, because you might need someone to cuddle up to during the scary parts. If you don't have an SO, I'd recommend buying a teddy bear.
Who Not to Watch It With: Frank Darabont.
Appropriate Food and Beverage Pairing: You might want to avoid food for this one, as some of the walkers on this show are pretty vomit-inducing. (See: the "well walker" below.) As for beverages, I'd go for a nice, cold beer — there won't be many after the zombie apocalypse!
Cringeworthy moment: Try to forget the well walker. We dare you.
Cast Member to Root For: Daryl Dixon. We're a sucker for this occasionally profound, fiercely loyal redneck with a heart of gold. His kind words for Carol last season were pretty heartbreaking, and he's not afraid to do what needs to be done — even if that means shooting a beloved character (Dale) in the face.
Cast Member to Root Against: We hate to say it, but Lori. The female characters on this show don't get a lot of love (though we do like Maggie, Carol, and occasionally Andrea), but Lori is just the worst. She's a classic damsel in distress type on a show that really just needs some badasses. Also, she slept with Shane, which is pretty gross.
What You’re Most Likely to Yell at the Screen: "BEHIND YOU!"
So, Will You Watch It?: Hell yes you will! It's water cooler fare at its finest, and even though it's up against some fierce competition (cough cough, Revenge), this one is worth a DVR at the very least. Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: AMC] MORE: Create Your Own Adventure: 'The Walking Dead' 'Walking Dead' Season 3 Photo Puzzle: Almost There! — EXCLUSIVE CONTEST 'Walking Dead' Season 3 Spoilers: Lori & Rick "Eroding from the Inside Out"
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.
S2E2: AMC’s hit series keeps the drama going this week in an even higher stakes – though we didn’t think they could get higher – episode. After last week’s cliffhanger with Carl laying on the forest floor with a gunshot, we knew we’d be in for quite a ride with Episode 2, but true to Walking Dead form, the zombie show only further unraveled the issues of Sophia’s disappearance and Carl’s potentially fatal injuries and loaded us up with further problems: T Dogg’s life-threatening infected gash and Shane’s hopeless situation at the high school. And while the ever-increasing complications are exhausting, the presentation is pristine – every detail down to the timing of the school bell in the episode’s flashback scene is carefully considered. Sure, we come to The Walking Dead for the brain-crushing zombie kills, but we stay for the quality of story and production value.
“You’re in way over your head.” – Lori
“Ma’am, aren’t we all?” – Hershel First up, the greatest issue at hand (sorry Sophia, your parents are secondary characters so we’ve got to deal with Carl first). After a flashback scene creating a parallel between Carl’s gunshot wound and Rick’s similar injury just before the apocalyptic events from the pilot episode, we find Rick running towards Hershel’s farm with Carl in his arms. Otis, a farm hand, is the accidental gunman and he labors after Shane and Rick towards the farm. Once there, Hershel determines that Carl wasn’t bit and begins trying to clean his wounds. It’s here that Rick’s “do the right thing” wiring gets a little confused. In this case, the right thing for him to do is stay by Carl’s side in case the worst happens – the boy should have his father by his side in this potentially fatal situation. But at the same time, Rick has trouble staying put; he’s used to riding to the rescue and feels he should go find Lori and eventually head off to the nearby high school for medical supplies to save Carl.
The storylines for the other members of the group are a little more splintered and hard to follow, but that’s something to be expected from The Walking Dead because the series gives even secondary players such rich stories. First, the non-Rick portion of the search party starts to worry about the gunshot they heard – Lori knows Rick wouldn’t shoot a gun for a single walker and risk attracting more. They opt to head back to the RV to regroup for the night though Carol can’t conceive that they’ve had an unsuccessful mission, accidentally telling Andrea “I just keep praying [Sophia] doesn’t end up like Amy.” While this was a fleeting moment in the episode, I think it’s an important one; of course it’s what we were all thinking, but at the same there's really no sensitive way to put it.
When Maggie rides through on a horse, saving Andrea from a walker that had her hopelessly cornered, she takes Lori and tells the group to drive their vehicles down the road to Hershel’s. They all head back to meet Dale and T-Dog who are searching unsuccessfully for antibiotics for T-Dog’s deadly infected cut. While the group works its way back, T-Dog descends into discussing his theory that the group left Dale, the elderly guy, and himself, the black guy, as bait for walkers in hopes that they’d distract from the search. This is of course nuts, as Dale points out – Daryl just risked his own life to save T-Dog’s. While T-Dog is clearly wrong, it’s another concept that we’re surprised to hear actually discussed on the show, though it’s not inconceivable that T-Dog in his delirious, terrified state would have that idea.
When everyone’s back together, the group shares the directions back to Hershel’s but Carol doesn’t want to leave in case Sophia wanders back to where the RV was once parked and finds no sign of the group. It’s a valid concern, but unfortunately it means we see the group split again – something that doesn’t sit too well with everyone. They could all stay, but T-Dog needs medical attention so the infection doesn’t kill him. They have no choice – which is another sign his irrational fears are understandable but unwarranted.
So we’re left with our group scattered. Shane and Otis are facing certain death at the high school, Dale’s RV camp stays in place for Sophia, Rick and Lori are weeping restlessly at Carl’s bed side, and the rest of the group is making its way towards the surprisingly hospitable farm folks. The series, from minute one, put us off kilter and it’s barreling forward – even without too many gnarly zombies kills this round – keeping us from getting a foothold for even a second. It’s going to be a harrowing, unsettling season. I doubt we’ll have the opportunity to catch our breaths or get relief, but that’s the plight of our band of survivors and the mark of a great show is being able to place us firmly in the series’ version of reality. The Walking Dead has done that in just two episodes and if things continue the way they should, we’re headed for a fantastic – and very uncomfortable – season.
One thing that far too many entries of zombie-related media do not seem to get is that walkers aren't the only issue you've got to deal with in a zombie apocalypse. There's also the little pain in the neck that is other people. Luckily, our trusty AMC series The Walking Dead understands this concept.
Season 2 of the phenomenal Robert Kirkman adaptation will take the group, consisting of Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son (Chandler Riggs), Rick's spouse-stealing best friend Shane (Jon Bernthal), the group's mystical patriatch Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), grieving sister Andrea (Laurie Holden), token racist Daryl (Norman Reedus) and spirited pizza boy Glenn (Stephen Yuen) to new levels of in-fighting, distrust and disloyalty. Where the camp was a place of sanctuary last season, it may now present an even greater danger than the zombies themselves.
Or it'll be a close second. They are, after all, zombies. The Walking Dead returns to AMC with a 90-minute premiere on October 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Click the picture to check out the Walking Dead season 2 gallery!