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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Just when we thought the Winchesters stood a chance at closing the gates of hell – and surviving it together – Supernatural went and threw us another curve ball. Sure, Dean was 100 percent behind his brother for the trials, and gave a truly heartwarming speech proving just how much he believed Sam could do it, but when Crowley enters the mix, all bets are off.
You see, now that Crowley knew what Sam and Dean were up to, and how close they were getting to closing the gates of hell, he had to take drastic measures before Sam could “cure” a demon thus completing the third trial. So what did he do? He appealed to the one thing we all know the Winchesters have a weakness for: saving people.
Crowley was using Carver Edlund’s books (great to see how many shout outs they’re getting this season!) to take a trip down Winchester memory lane and start killing every person Sam and Dean have saved every 12 hours until they give up and surrender. After Jimmy Collins from Season 1 Episode 2’s wendigo attack died suddenly, and another Season 1 veteran, Sarah Blake, bit the dust in a truly heartbreaking scene where I have never seen Sam and Dean look so completely helpless before, the Sam lost all faith that they can actually stop Crowley. But Dean hasn’t given up, and you can be sure as hell he’ll rally Sam to kick some a**.
And hey, sure enough, the promos for next week show Sam and Dean attempting to cure a demon after all… and that demon is Crowley himself! That’s what happens when you piss off the Winchesters. Sorry I'm not sorry.
Meanwhile, Cas was safely in the Men of Letters bunker healing after his angelic/demonic battles last week, and Dean wasn’t making it any easier for him. Even though Cas has wronged Dean in the past, he’s always been able to forgive his friend. He's always had a soft spot for his angel friend. This time, it wasn’t going to be so easy. Cas has continually betrayed Dean over and over again, and each time Dean forgives him, Cas just does it again. He never learns, or employs the same loyalty Dean has always shown him. Dean isn’t going to forgive him this time, and that makes Cas susceptible to Metatron’s plans.
After finally getting the whole story on what he’s missed while being a recluse, Metatron decided the way to fix Heaven and their angelic family was to lock everyone in a room and hash things out. A time out of sorts, but on a massive scale. That’s right, Metatron wants to use the angel tablet and close the gates of Heaven! While there isn’t any evil reasons behind his plans, I still don’t trust Metatron, and the way he so easily manipulated Cas into completing the first trial worried me. The first trial, by the way, was to kill a nephilim, the offspring of an angel and a human.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the folklore of nephilim come into play on Supernatural. For a show that focuses on the supernatural, and has had angels as big players since Season 4, it’s surprising it took so long for nephilim to show up. They are featured heavily in supernatural books and movies, with varying degrees of power and alliances with good/evil. Unfortunately, the ballad of the nephilim on Supernatural was brief: the only one on earth was killed by Cas to complete the first trial. So long, nephilim, sorry you never even had a name!
Also, Abbadon showed up again after Sam and Dean put her together to attempt to cure her before getting distracted by Crowley’s phone calls (coming from the number 666, nice touch). So she’s on the loose again, and seemed pretty pissed off at hearing how Crowley worked his way up from being a messenger to the kind of hell.
Shout-out to the hilarious convenience store worker: I would have been pretty pissed myself if I had to deal with a messy, destructive shopper like Cas. But come on, how could you not have pie?
The best quotes from “Clip Show:”
Dean: How you feeling?Sam: Honestly? My whole body hurts, I’m nauseous and like I’m starving at the same time, and everything smells like rotting meat.Dean: I’ve had that hangover. Jaeger, man.
Cas: I like this bunker. It’s orderly.Sam: Give us a few months. Dean wants to get a ping pong table.Cas: I’ve heard of that, it’s a game, right?
Sam: A half-drunk beer, some jerky, and three peanut butter cups?Dean: Well, yeah, we’re running a little low… I’ll go make a run.
Dean: If anybody else, I mean anybody, pulled that kind of crap I would stab them in the neck on principle. Why should I give him a free pass?Sam: Because it’s Cas.
Dean: Well, that was weird. With three exclamation points.
Dean, about Sam completing the trials: Father, over the past couple of months I have seen him do crap that I didn’t even think was possible. I’m sure he’s miserable and he’s hurting, but you know what? There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s gonna cross that finish line. Not one.
Not a quote, but you could tell just how much Cas was trying to make it up to Dean on his run to get food and supplies. His cart consisted of jerky, toilet paper, even Busty Asian Beauties, aka Dean's favorite porn! But when he couldn't find pie, he knew no amount of porn would make Dean happy...
Cas: Where’s the pie?Sales clerk: I think we’re out.Cas: I don’t think you understand, I need pie!
Metatron: I should have picked a better-looking vessel.
Sam: How’d you get this number?Crowley: First things first: what are you wearing?Dean: Oh, okay, hanging up now. Hang it up.Crowley: Fine, this isn’t a social call.
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After a tragically Impala-less summer for fans, and a torturously long year in Purgatory for Dean, the Winchester brothers are back — and, truth be told, they're not exactly better than ever. Hollywood.com was able to screen Supernatural's Season 8 premiere episode, "We Need To Talk About Kevin," with executive producers Jeremy Carver and Robert Singer on Monday, and we were pleased as punch to see a return to form for the series, which has had its fair share of stumbles over the last two seasons. In short, the episode was excellent, and we were anxious for more when the end credits came along to spoil all the fun.
Most dedicated SPN fans probably already know that while Dean spent the last year fighting monsters in Purgatory, Sam was off knocking boots with a hot vet named Amelia (Liane Balaban). Season 8 begins with the brothers' first post-Purgatory meeting, and let's just say it's not exactly their warmest moment. But enough with the negatives — here are the top five things we loved about the Supernatural Season 8 premiere (SPOILERS AHEAD):
1. A Whole New Dean (and Sam?): Dean comes back from Purgatory a changed man. While his wry sense of humor and undying love for his brother are still very present, his experiences down below have turned him into a hardened warrior with enough painful memories to justify a trip to the loony bin. Meanwhile, Sam spent the past year developing a cozy life with Amelia, leaving any trace of his hunting life behind. And guess what? He liked it. Unlike Dean, who was unable to live a comfortable, hunt-less life with Lisa, Sam adapted well to the simple life.
Their polar opposite views on the necessity of hunting would have led to conflict no matter what, but when you add the fact that Sam didn't even look for Dean — ouch! — and that he virtually abandoned Kevin, you get a brotherly mess that won't be completely mopped up anytime soon. Dean is pissed, while Sam just wants him to understand that every problem doesn't need to be their problem. So, basically, expect some meaty drama down the line!
2. Yes, We Do Need To Talk About Kevin: ... because he is wonderful. The former Princeton applicant has honed his prophet skills over the past year, and has a refreshing sense of humor about his terrible predicament. He is a great contrast to the typically super-serious Winchester brothers, and delivers the hands-down best line of the premiere. You'll know it when you hear it.
3. Benny, Benny, Benny: Getting out of Purgatory is no easy feat, and for Dean, his escape rested entirely on the shoulders of a mysterious vampire named Benny (Ty Olsson). We see their bloody, mistrustful first meeting down below, but by the time they are freed, there seems to be a warm bond between the two. Dean doesn't mention Benny to Sam, and we think we know why — first, because Dean murdered Sam's friend Amy just for being a monster, and second, because there are things Dean did in Purgatory that he does not want Sam to know about. Of course he'll eventually find out, and the issue of Benny should be a interesting debate over the course of the season. We also can't wait to see how their relationship formed down below, which brings us to our next point...
4. Flashbacks Galore: Supernatural has definitely used flashbacks in the past, but this season they'll be an essential component to the present plot. Since Dean (and to a lesser extent, Sam) are keeping their apart-year close to the vest, the writers are using flashbacks to show viewers what happened both above and below, which will help us understand the brothers' state of mind going forward. We see Dean meeting Benny and Sam meeting Amelia in the premiere, but how those relationships developed will be a big part of coming episodes, while the present plot still moves forward.
5. Crowley is Still Crowley: It looks like Crowley is going to be a big bad this year, and we couldn't be happier. While we don't want to give away too much about his actions in the premiere, let's just say he gets a solid taste of his own medicine, then exacts some brutal revenge. You're going to love to hate him, as per the usual.
It's your turn, Supernatural fans: What are you most excited for this season? Let us know in the comments!
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
A modern take on Puccini’s classic opera La Boheme Rent isn’t a complicated story. Set on the brink of the ‘90s we meet a group of er bohemians living in a rundown tenement in New York’s East Village struggling with AIDS eviction and creative ways to express themselves. The denizens include a budding documentary filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp); his rock musician roommate Roger (Adam Pascal); the stripper drug addict Mimi (Rosario Dawson) who lives downstairs; Mark’s ex-girlfriend edgy performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel) and her new lawyer girlfriend Joanne (Tracie Thoms); street-drumming drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and his handsome boyfriend philosopher professor Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin). When their fraught way of life in their beloved ‘hood is threatened by expanding corporate gentrification orchestrated by Mark ’s former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs) the group does what we’d all like to do--sing. And sing and… Non-musical fans may need a breather but at least the songs by Jonathan Larson (the show’s young composer who died suddenly before opening night) are MTV ready and vital to the storytelling. Casting most of Rent’s original Broadway stars is definitely a plus. Menzel Rapp Heredia (who won a Tony for his role) Diggs Martin and Pascal understand what it takes to make this story come alive and how to really belt out those songs. But the fact they are all mostly stage performers you get the feeling watching these talented thespians that they never stop wanting to give 110 percent which may come off over the top for the big screen. A seasoned film actor like Dawson (Sin City 25th Hour) is at an advantage. She understands the requisite subtleties of acting for the camera and gives a tour-de-force performance as Mimi all at once seductive sad and oh-so-tortured. Dawson is certainly one to look out for during this awards season. Wow director Chris Columbus sure is gutsy. Not only did he revive the long-stalled project from years in development limbo but he also had to live up to the high expectations of the Broadway show’s cultish fan base. Of course he isn’t a stranger to appeasing the masses having helmed the first two Harry Potter movies but ultimately with Rent Columbus turns out to be the wrong man for the job. The film is fairly static without much creative flair--and very long. Spike Lee was originally attached for the longest time. Imagine that film for a moment. Still to be fair to Columbus turning Rent into a movie is just plain difficult because it is NOT a cinematic story. It’s an opera--a good opera with lots of great pulse-pounding heart-wrenching songs but an opera nonetheless. Fans of the show or “Rent-Heads” as they are lovingly referred to should be happy with this big-screen version but once again I was left wishing I’d seen it on stage.