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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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The Kennedy clan has welcomed a new addition after Patrick Kennedy's wife gave birth to a baby girl. Nora Kennedy, who is Edward Kennedy's granddaughter, was born on Tuesday (19Nov13).
Her mum Amy Petitgout gave birth to the tot at Atlanticare Regional Medical Center in New Jersey.
A statement from former Congressman Kennedy reads, "Amy and I are thrilled to welcome Nora to our family and are thrilled that both mom and baby are doing well today."
Kennedy wed the teacher in 2011 and the couple welcomed son Owen last year (Apr12). Petitgout has a five-year-old daughter, Harper, from a previous marriage.
Annual British charity gig series the Little Noise Sessions has been cancelled. The London concerts have been held since 2006 to raise money for the charity Mencap, which helps people with learning disabilities, and the shows have previously featured performances from acts including Amy Winehouse, Noel Gallagher, Adele and Coldplay.
However, organisers have now confirmed the 2013 concerts, which were due to take place next month (Dec13), will not go ahead.
A statement reads, "Due to unforeseen circumstances, this year's Little Noise Sessions has been cancelled and we're taking a year out. Thank you for all your love and support. Please bear with us and we'll be back soon."
Singer Lily Allen retired her outspoken pop star persona after the grief of a miscarriage forced her to change her views on life. The Smile hitmaker sparked controversy in the early years of her career by picking fights with stars including Sir Elton John, Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse and Kylie Minogue.
This month (Nov13), she is launching a musical comeback after taking a three-year hiatus to start a family with her husband Sam Cooper, and she has revealed her baby tragedy in 2010, when her son was stillborn at six months, made her reassess her attitude.
Allen tells The Observer Magazine, "Before... this, before what happened to Sam and I happened, I was quite vocal. I complained about a lot of things. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to grieve with someone I loved. There are women who have to deal with this on their own, so even though it was tragic, I knew where I was in the world and the people who were important to me and what mattered, and what didn't. The thing I took away from this was that I couldn't believe I'd ever complained about anything ever before in my life."
However, Allen also warns her critics she is considering a repeat of her previous outspoken antics now she is back in the spotlight: "I'm finally ready to complain again now."
Allen now has two children, daughters Ethel, who turns two this month (Nov13), and 10-month-old Marnie.
Actor Andrew Shue's TV reporter wife, Amy Robach, is recovering in hospital after undergoing a double mastectomy. The ABC News anchor discovered she was battling breast cancer after agreeing to have a mammogram on camera for U.S. breakfast show Good Morning America during Breast Cancer Awareness Month last month (Oct13).
She announced her shocking diagnosis live on air on Monday (11Nov13) and went under the knife to have both of her breasts removed on Thursday (14Nov13) in an effort to cut out the potentially-deadly disease.
Former Melrose Place star Shue has since taken to Robach's Twitter.com blog to update fans on her progress and thank them for their support on his wife's behalf.
He writes, "on behalf of my brave girl. She came through surgery beautifully. And so appreciates the genuine love and support."
No matter what happens, no matter how beaten and battered Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope may find herself, she'll never stay down for long. So is it true for the show itself, which returned for two pretty strong episodes last night that put the City Council story to rest and served as yet another reason to shake a fist at NBC for depriving us of this show while Comedy Thursday continues to burn itself into oblivion. The premises for both episodes were simple: Leslie filibusters to protect voting rights of Eagleton citizens, even though they want to vote her out in favor of Kristen Bell's Ingrid DuForest; and, Leslie hits rock bottom on Halloween after losing the recall election. But what made these two episodes sing was the funny stuff, so let's get straight to that. Here are the top 10 things from last night's hour of smalltown government comedy:
The Funny Stuff, Round 1 ("Filibuster"):
1. Roller skating! Not to be confused with roller blading, Ben's roller-rink birthday party and its accompanying early '90s theme was a delight. If only we could have seen the full choreographed couple's dance to "Losing My Religion" that we were promised.
2. Andy's Back! Chris Pratt's Guardians of the Galaxy schedule opened up briefly to offer this short but sweet vingette as April was able to overcome her usual bitterness to encourage him to fake it until he makes it, "Because everyone sucks but you're awesome."
3. Ron + Donna! Ron's endeavors to beat a Buckhunter-style hunting arcade game was all funny and was a great venue to see his mounting frustration mirrored by Donna's total apathy. Their brief sorjurn to the woods to hunt without a permit? Totally hilarious. And if you thought Donna would play striaght man to Ron's woodsman, you were sorely mistaken. "You know I don't give a f**k."
4. Tatiana Maslany! She's making another in the lost list of Tom's girlfriends come alive, really, for the first time. While her character is still hard to figure out, she's undeniably charming. This was supposed to be the last of her character, but hopefully everyone realizes how wonderful she is and she returns some time in 2014.
5. Jammargarita Mix! Councilman Jamm has been a worthy and frustrating foe, but with Leslie's triumph here it seems Jamm has finally lost his power over her and the council. Even though Leslie won't remain a Councilwoman, the image of her pouring his own freshly made margs on his beautiful curls will surely linger.
The Funny Stuff, Round 2 ("Recall Vote"):
1. Sad Leslie. Scarfing down burgers, dressed in an old t-shirt, and dispassionate even on Halloween, it was a nearly unrecognizable Knope for most of this half-hour. It could have been heartwrenching, but luckily Leslie is such a bighearted character that she can't help but commit even when she's feeling down. Her concession speech was a thing of apathetic beauty: "Eat my shorts, jabronis. Knope out."
2. Ben's Drunk! Hey, remember when Ben was a washed-up old kid mayor? Neither did he, until this episode, which gave Adam Scott the chance to also remind us that he is an all star when playing drunk. Also, shoutout to Ben for making that sweet Li'l Sebastian model, and bonus points for lovingly petting its mane.
3. Tom Sells Out! While the logical conclusion would be that Tom holds out and rides his business into the ground honorably, instead he gleefully sells out for 60 grand. It also provided a nice counterpoint to Ron's steadfast insistance that he would refuse to mass produce his Swanson chairs. Which leads into...
4. Lifestyle Guru! P&R can really hit a sweet spot satirically when it's making fun of the pampered bourgeosie (case in point: Treat Yo'Self!), and Annabelle Porter, who looks suspiciously like an off-brand Jessica Alba and sounds suspiciously like an off-brand Gwyneth Paltrow, is on-point, with her needless, pretentious email blast celebrating the most essential non-essentials Pawnee has to offer.
5. Sick Tats! That pawn shop would have made a great tattoo parlor. Chainsaws were everywhere, and the ink comes from real ballpoint pens! And you can start the countdown until diehard fans of P&R and/or awesomeness start getting Eleanor Roosevelt with a tasteful tattoo of Pat Benatar put on their forearms.
Chris Pratt is on a roll (and not into another pit a la his character Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation). According to The Wrap, Universal is eyeing Pratt for the leading male role in Jurassic World.
Assuming the actor does end up taking the role (and is able to figure out a filming schedule that would work with Parks and Recreation), he'll appear on screen alongside Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, and possibly the Life of Pi star Irrfan Khan who is also being sought after for the film. Josh Brolin had originally been in talks for the lead role, but a deal was never made.
If Pratt signs on for the Jurassic Park sequel, then the up-and-coming big-name star could add yet another film to his growing list. Pratt, who has already proved his worth on the NBC comedy alongside Amy Poehler, has been quickly building up his "serious" acting credentials in films like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty. Additionally, he is set to star as Peter Quill in Marvel's 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy, voice the lead role in The LEGO Movie, and appear in The Delivery Man and Spike Jonze's Her. From the looks of it, Pratt doesn't plan on being pinned as the loveably dopey Andy forever. (But we still want a Parks and Recreation and Jurassic Park mash-up, because that just seems like it would be magical.)
Jurassic World, which will be directed by Colin Trevorrow from the script he co-wrote with Derek Connolly, will hit theaters June 12, 2015.
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We're not here to sign off on Kevin Smith altogether. Sure, we enjoyed his cult classics in the heat of the anguished period of counter-cinema that was the mid-'90s, but the meandering dialogues of Clerks and Dogma haven't exaclty aged with grace. And for every passable title, there's been a Jersey Girl, a Zack and Miri, and a whatever that last one was with Melissa Leo. But in his View Askew pictures and his AMC production Comic Book Men, Smith has showcased his devotion to superhero fandom. He wrangled Stan Lee for the all-knowing god figure in Mallrats, framed his "something personal to say" story Chasing Amy around the comic book industry, and created an entire reality show as a venue for him and his pals to geek out about the art of fandoms. On top of this, many know that Smith even penned his own script for a Superman feature for Warner Bros. at one point. As such, like him or not, we can dub him an efficacious authority on the genre. So it's good news that he's essentially signing off on Zack Snyder's Batman Vs. Superman movie. Or at least one part of it.
Smith got a gander at the new Batsuit that Snyder has opted to use for his incarnation of the character, and he more than digs it — he credits the outfit as a triumph for all fans of the Batman comics. "I saw the Batman costume. More than that I saw a picture of [Ben Affleck] in the costume," Smith says on the latest episode of his podcast, courtesy of Cinemablend. "Now, I don't want to give anything away 'cause that is up to them and stuff, but I am going to say this: I instantly bear hugged [Snyder]. You have not seen this costume in a movie on film before. And for a comic book fan, it was mind bending."
That's a promise that is bound to whet the appetites of all those who subscribe to said community. Smith, though perhaps not entirely successful in his delivery of comic book-related cinema, is certainly deserving of our reverence for his stature as a genuine and knowledgeable comic book fan. Granted, Smith has kind of a bias when it comes to Warner Bros' upcoming film: Snyder's Batman will be played by Ben Affleck, a frequent collaborator and close friend of the Jersey-born writer/director. Smith's connection to Affleck is likely how he got to sneak a peek at the Batman costume in the first place, but we shouldn't discount his assessment of the movie or any of its elements as such. Yes, they're pals, but Smith has never been shy about tossing Affleck a few jabs here and there.
The filmmaker continues on his effusive praise of Snyder's design: "I was like [to Snyder], 'Get out of here, only you have enough power to pull this off.' Because everyone always like does this Matrix/X-men black armor. … It was fantastic. I'm already a flag waver for this movie, but the costume, it blew my mind. I think everyone is just gonna be like 'Holy ****!' It's its own thing, man. It's like we haven't been down this path at all. I was so elated. ... Even the hardest core "**** all this" person will be like 'alright, I'm ready.'"
Those are some pretty convicted words. Considering the lukewarm reception Snyder earned with Man of Steel and the half-hearted response to the news of Affleck taking the Batman role, Batman Vs. Superman hasn't yet set itself up to be a project of promise. But they've at least got one established fanboy in their corner, and perhaps his words will sway the rest of us.
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U.S. TV reporter Amy Robach stunned viewers on Monday (11Nov13) by announcing she is set to undergo a double mastectomy after a live examination on TV led to a breast cancer diagnosis. The ABC News anchor made the announcement on Good Morning America, revealing she was told the devastating news after she underwent an on-camera mammogram for the show last month (Oct13).
Speaking to Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, who is a cancer survivor, Robach said, "If I got the mammogram on air and it saved one life, then it's all worth it. It never occurred to me that that life would be mine.
"It's absolutely surreal to be sitting here. But as scary as it all is, I'm so so lucky - because you guys pushed me to that mammogram - thank God you did, I wasn't in any rush to have that done any time soon."
The 40 year old will undergo the operation and reconstructive surgery on 14 November (13).
Electronic music stars Chase & Status have denied accusations the free school for musicians they are setting up in their native U.K. is an academy of fame. The dance duo is preparing to launch the East London Arts & Music (ELAM) school, where youngsters aged 16 to 19 can train in music technology, business and performance alongside regular subjects such as maths and English.
They have now spoken out to address accusations they are creating an X Factor-style institution to tutor kids on a fast-track to stardom, insisting the claims are unfair.
Musician Will Kennard tells NME magazine, "There's a misconception that we're trying to promote a sort of Fame Academy, but ELAM isn't about how to be a pop star. Even being incredible on a mixing desk is not enough to get you a career in music - you need the professional expertise too."
ELAM is being backed by the prestigious Brit School, which counts Amy Winehouse and Adele among its former students.