The following article contains massive spoilers (and not just like, "Estes acts like a d-bag" spoilers) about the Season 2 finale of Homeland.
In 2011, United States Marine Nicholas Brody was rescued from an underground terrorist base in Afghanistan, after having been captured and held prisoner by the forces of al-Qaeda for eight years. Brody, as he is affectionately called by his wife and friends, was returned home to America, where he would reunite with his family, earn notoriety as a nationwide hero, and accelerate professionally to the level of congressman and vice presidential hopeful. But there was a side to Brody that the world didn't see, even with the influx of reporters and public figures storming his home from every corner of the Virginia countryside. What CIA Agent Carrie Mathison, her associates Saul Berenson, freelance surveillance experts Virgil and Max, and the highly addicted Homeland audience began to suspect: is this dude a terrorist? Long story short, yes. At least, he was.
Sunday night brought the second season of the Showtime series to a close, also seeming to put a lid on all of our distrusts regarding Brody. The episode concluded with a gigantic explosion, which took the lives of dozens of attendees of Vice President Walden's funeral, including his wife and teenage son, and CIA Director of Counterterrorism David Estes. Absent from the event, quite conveniently, are Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody, who sneaked away to have a romantic foray just in time to avoid the wrath of the bomb... which was detonated from within Brody's car.
If you didn't catch the episode, the above synopsis will probably suggest with near certainty that Brody was responsible for the act of terrorism (which was followed by a television broadcast of an al-Qaeda message proclaiming patronage of the explosion). But Homeland seems to want us to think that our pursed-lipped hero is in fact innocent. The final moments of the episode had Carrie sending Brody off to the freedom of Canada (where no one will ever find him!), and set our favorite secret agent off on a quest to prove her inscrutably beloved soldier's innocence — such, we assume this to be the course of action for Season 3/the show's Lifetime movie adaptation: My Boyfriend Is Not a Terrorist: The Carrie Mathison Story.
But something seems... missing. We were invited into the world of Homeland on the premise of a huge-scale whodunit. For the majority of Season 1, fans weren't sure what exactly was up with Brody — was he really a terrorist? Was Carrie Mathison, in fact, crazy? And what was lurking beneath Saul Berenson's beard? All mysteries with which we happily engaged. But Season 2 put a lot of this ambiguity to rest, instead allowing us to watch idly as one crazy, adrenal situation after another played out onscreen. And this seems to be the way Season 3 is setting up to introduce its formula.
What we really need from the show, however, is a return to this active-viewing form: the "Is Brody a terrorist?" game that was as fun and engrossing as a round of international Clue. Of course, that's just one opinion. A few members of the Hollywood.com staff chimed in to give their take on directions that would best suit Homeland's third season:"Despite what the showrunners may say, the Season 2 finale still had me doubting Brody's intentions as well as his feelings for Carrie. Season 3 needs to get rid of this question mark once and for all by telling us definitively whether Brody is a good guy or a bad guy. Because this flip-flopping business is exhausting. Also, the 'Carrie is alone and crazy' card is so thoroughly played out, in order to hold my interest Season 3 needs to give Carrie a team. Let's see a Brody Berenson Mathison Quinn coalition (a la Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce). And bring back Galvez!" - Abbey Stone
"If Season 3 went back to exploring Carrie's work on the ground floor (especially now that Saul is in charge), not just her trying to cover up for Brody, the show might have a shot at getting back to the fascinating, intelligent show about terrorism that it it was when it started out." - Aly Semigran
"I think that Season 3 of Homeland should mostly be about Dana. She needs to get a new haircut and change her name so that no one knows who she really is. I think we should see her go to college and meet a nice boy. She has a hard time trusting men, considering that her father is now an exposed terrorist and that her last boyfriend ran over a lady and left her dead body in the street and then he died in a CIA bombing that her father may or may not have orchestrated. But she meets a guy and they fight and break up and then they get back together and she wears a lot of black... Oh, wait, that's what I DON'T want Season 3 to be about." - Brian Moylan
"Homeland would benefit from jumping ahead 100 years into the future. Don't worry — they invented technology to keep Carrie and co. around. So they'll still be trying to figure out if Brody is a terrorist or not, but now they'll have laser guns and teleportation machines." - Matt PatchesWhat are some of your ideas about where the show should go from here?
[Photo Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime]
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Forget that the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping romance novel comes from the man who brought us the slick-but-stuffy Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Every frame of director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold overflowing with visual spectacle and roaring performances. Keira Knightley Jude Law Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast fit perfectly in the high drama epic but it's really Wright's playground. Following Hanna an artful spin on the action movie Wright returns to the period drama but injects it with dazzling daring choices. A book like Anna Karenina could once fit in reality but its larger-than-life legacy precedes it. Wright acknowledges that from frame one approaching the film like a grand ballet or opera where grand gestures broad emotions and overt theatrics are commonplace. That vision clicks transforming Anna Karenina into an exhilarating moviegoing experience.
The storyline of Anna Karenina isn't far off from a daytime soap: It's 1874 and Anna (Knightley) is floating through existence as the wife of influential government player Karenin (Law). But when her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) summons her to Moscow to save his marriage Anna's entire world is shaken up. She meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) a cavalry hunk who finds himself smitten with the taken lady. She's in the same boat: The two strike up a flirtatious relationship that evolves into one of sexual passion. A scandalous affair would incite trouble in the preset day but in the 19th century it's the ultimate crime. Quickly Anna's life comes crumbling down.
The intertwining melodrama of Anna Karenina earned the novel its classic status but Wright uses the material as a launching pad for imagination rather than a tome to translate to screen. Many of the scenes are staged in a theater creating an instant awareness of the production. Sets shift and are reconstructed into new rooms; actors costume change in the span of single shots; action sequences like a thrilling horse race are conducted on stage with special effects you might see on Broadway. Wright works this sort of stylization in the other direction too; a character could walk an empty stage open a door and suddenly be on a snow-covered hill. Anna Karenina isn't the first film to use the effect but in Wright's hands it's exhilarating.
The movie is Wright's third collaboration with Knightley and easily their most successful. Knightley never struggles to stay on the same page as the heightened material whether she's nailing a dance sequence or breaking down in a flood of tears. Casting an ensemble around Knightley is no easy task but Taylor-Johnson gives his best work yet as the debonair love interest and Macfadyen steals the show with moments of physical comedy.
We have expectations of the texture and structure of period romances. Anna Karenina defies them. Masterpiece Theater it is not.
There was a time when 25-year-old Chelsea Rickling thought stars were just like us. That coupled celebrities clutching hands in magazines were simply glossier versions of our anonymous selves. That Hollywood’s brightest stars, too, yearned for — and often achieved — fairytale romances that rivaled their own on-screen love stories.
But then, in 2002, pop power couple Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake broke up, leading to a storm of toxic he said/she said headlines and singles that eventually culminated in a reported dance battle. And then, in 2005, tabloid sweethearts Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt transformed into tabloid heartbreakers when their seven-year relationship went sour thanks to an on-screen spy marriage. By the time Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes parted ways this summer — and Kristen Stewart publicly released a loving monologue fit for a one-act play following her cheating scandal — Rickling was all but convinced Hollywood was just as make-believe as its big-screen releases. “I wanted Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt to be together forever,” the New York-based Rickling says. “But when people like them break up, [fans] are like, ‘You know what? I don’t know if I’m going to believe in this anymore.’”
The non-believers extend beyond Rickling. Pop culture aficionados and casual fans alike have spent the past few months voicing, tweeting, and posting on Facebook their skepticism surrounding some of Hollywood’s most notable couples. News of Cruise and Holmes’ divorce was met with declarations of “I knew it!” by naysayers who thought the mere break-up proved conspiracy theories surrounding a marriage contract or secret sexual orientation. Stewart’s aforementioned declaration of love to boyfriend and Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson following her affair with director Rupert Sanders only led fans and media outlets (including this one) to point to the fact that Snow White and the Huntsman Blu-ray details were released the very same day. And the endless stream of photographs picturing Kanye West hand-in-hand with marriage enthusiast Kim Kardashian? Fans are responding en masse: Fool us once, shame on you. “I just don’t believe it 100 percent,” says 31-year-old Carmela Cipriano of New York. “[Relationship publicity] surrounds when somebody’s new movie is coming out, when somebody’s releasing an album, or if a movie isn’t doing so well, or if a TV show is going to be airing.”
The concept sounds ludicrous: A-list celebrities arrange faux relationships, staging affectionate photographs and candlelit dates for years while we normal citizens can barely bear to pretend we like that guy from OkCupid? Yet even the most rational of pop culture fans (even celebrities themselves) still insist contracts exchange hands behind closed doors in Hollywood. So what explains the belief that we know the truth is out there, even if the closest we’ve been to Hollywood is the People magazine stand at our local grocery stores? “We’ve been given so many examples as to why we should be cynical,” says Max Dawson, assistant professor of radio, television, and film at Northwestern University. “We have a good 100 years of precedent behind us that, if we’ve been paying enough attention, tells us that most relationships between celebrities don’t really last. Whether it’s the serial marriages of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, or the sham marriages or beard relationships of people like Rock Hudson. Even when we really want to believe, it’s just so hard to.”
Still, even with knowledge of Hollywood’s sketchy relationship history, pop culture lovers spent decades feeling so attached to their favorite celebrity couples, they might as well have tattooed “Winona (and Johnny) Forever” on their right shoulders. But as our dependence on the Internet and social media increased over the past five years, so did our suspicious nature. Especially when the World Wide Web came complete with enough paranoia to fill the hole in Twihards’ hearts. The PR-friendly People — which depicted Hollywood as a glitzy utopia — suddenly found competition in the Perez Hiltons and TMZs of the Internet, which offered access via compromising photographs instead of fluffy baby photos. For some, the lure of the lurid was simply too tantalizing to pass up.
And, apparently, too juicy to dismiss. Despite the fact that a study conducted by Harris Interactive in July found 98 percent of Americans distrust information they find on the Internet, celebrity gossip seems immune. Pop culture fans continue to devour, and pass on, stories of possible sham marriages and other paltry tales. (Of course, that study was found on the Internet, so perhaps we shouldn’t trust it.) Receive enough "inside" information from the likes of Perez, and suddenly, he becomes a reliable source, despite how much genitalia he scribbles on stars’ faces. "People are simply bombarded by this information," says Dr. Jim Taylor, author of Raising Generation Tech: Prepare Your Children For a Media-Fueled World and blogger on pop culture. "Basically, a simple fact of human beings is we base our judgment of the world based upon the information we get from the world. So [even] if most of that information is manufactured, then it’s natural that we’re going to at some level believe it."
Of course, it's difficult to view Hollywood as a victim, especially when the industry often perpetrates many of the untruths circulated around the Web and in tabloids. In fact, Dawson says we can thank the industry itself for a trend towards transparency. After all, not only have celebrities arranged photo ops with paparazzi and tweeted us photos from their sets, but the movie industry has also invited pop culture fans to pull back the curtain via behind-the-scenes photographs and documentaries. "Everything has some sort of inside gossip attached to it where the audiences is being encouraged to feel as if we're insiders," Dawson says. "As if we're not on the other side of the screen, but we have privileged access to understand how pop culture gets made. And whether that's through Entertainment Tonight, through blogs, [or] through things like DVD special features, we're being encouraged to feel as if we have a sort of privileged viewpoint. We're in on things."
And that includes feeling in on elaborate PR plans that feed into conspiracy theories. As former believer Rickling says, "We have so much access to publicity that maybe we're getting a little bit smarter. Based on Twitter, all the paparazzi photos… maybe we have too much information almost."
It makes sense that celebrities' on-camera, couch-jumping blitzes would encourage authenticity conversations — actors are good at acting. But what about the skepticism surrounding Twilight stars Stewart and Pattinson, who actively avoided talking about their relationship until the actress' cheating scandal? Turns out, it's lose-lose for celebrity couples (even if it's win-win for Hollywood when it comes to fueling buzz). "The more secretive [the relationship] is, the more we as individuals can participate, in a way, because we can create our own reality of the situation," Taylor says. "The less we know, the more we can create our own narrative about them."
After all, we've learned how to create reality from Hollywood itself. Though reality TV has existed since 1973, when PBS aired the groundbreaking An American Family, and became an institution thanks to MTV's seemingly unstoppable Real World, its modern-day format started with the early 2000s reality TV boom, which was launched by the likes of Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire, Survivor, and The Bachelor. Suddenly, "reality TV" didn't represent passive, documentary-style, fly-on-the-wall viewing — Hollywood realized it could manipulate the material and create its own desired narrative. It didn't take long until cast members shifted from deer-in-the-headlights folk like Darva Conger to active participants like Kardashian. And it didn't take long for viewers to wise up to the fact that perhaps Ed Swiderski and Jillian Harris weren't as in love as they let on. "[With] The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, at first you're like, ‘Oh my gosh, it's true love, it's true romance, and this is how it goes, what a Disney experience,'" Cipriano says. "That's definitely changed more with the newer realities and the explosion of more reality TV that's come about."
It's part of the reason pop culture fans are skeptical of the industry — if Hollywood could convince us that Ed and Jillian, Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi, and Flavor Flav and Hoopz belonged together, why couldn't they do the same with A-list stars? In fact, our increasing jaded view towards the medium has changed our perception of "reality" as a whole. "At this point, it's no longer necessary for anyone I think outside of maybe conversations with 3-year-olds or 93-year-olds to qualify a discussion of reality TV that reality TV isn't real," Dawson says. "Everybody knows that reality TV isn't real. The fact that we still use that, ‘reality TV,' isn't it wonderful? The very fact that we've been comfortable with allowing the term ‘reality' within the context of reality TV to be applied so liberally is indicative of the fact that I don't think that people are necessarily that attached to the idea that there's any one single truth, that there's any one reality that could even be captured on TV. It's a sort of relativism — an acknowledgment that everyone is going to observe things from a different perspective. There's no real one true essential way of defining anything anymore."
NEXT: "You always wanted the top blonde teenager [to] get busted for a DUI."
Yet, despite our knowledge of reality TV's manipulation of the truth, we're still tuning in — a total of 8.9 million viewers watched Emily Maynard's Bachelorette finale. And despite our tendency to doubt celebrity relationships, we're still consuming stories about stars en masse via magazines and blogs. If we don't buy Hollywood's stories, why do we continue to literally buy into them? Dawson says that exact blurred line of reality and fiction has only made us more fascinated in celebrity, pointing to Kardashian's short-lived marriage to Kris Humphries. "Obviously, there was all that around the wedding and the fact that nobody believed it, [but] it really didn't prevent anyone from buying the issue of US Weekly, or watching the coverage of it on E!," he says. "It actually made it more interesting. If Kim Kardashian actually found true love with a dentist from Encino and really decided that this was going to be a turning point in her life, it would kind of be boring. The unreality of her reality is why we like her."
And there's also consumers' love of Schadenfreude. "People also like to see celebrities fall," says Dr. Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in California and expert on mindfulness, media, and celebrity culture. "We love to hate our celebrities. We idolize them and then we want to bring them down because it shows that our lives aren't so bad. It's better to be us… We have more moral foundation. We have more inside. We have more genuineness."
Erica Daniels, a 25-year-old from Pottstown, Penn., says pop culture fans who are eager to expose fake celebrity relationships simply want to see the mighty fall. "It's like how in high school you always wanted the top blonde cheerleader [to] get busted for a DUI and get expelled," she says. "Nobody wants to see anybody more attractive and wealthier than them also be happily in love. Nobody wants to see that. I think that's the ridiculous part of humanity."
Daniels is, after all, one of the few who actually does believe the Hollywood hype, and has even argued with her own mother about whether Kardashian and West's relationship is for the cameras. "Hollywood is full of such attractive gorgeous talented people that are also going to be attracted to gorgeous talented attractive people with the same style," she says. "There's so much in our lives right now that could bring us to have this skeptical outlook all the time. There are so many opportunities for you to develop this sense of distrust in the world … Maybe it's just [me] being blissfully ignorant, but I'm going to choose to believe there's something real in there."
There have indeed been many opportunities for our modern society to develop a sense of distrust — in our post-Iraq War existence, our leaders have given us reason to doubt everything from their fidelity to the existence of dangerous weaponry overseas. The result has been a more skeptical society eager to uncover truths not dictated by authority figures. Even if those figures exist in movie houses instead of the White House. "There's definitely been this turn to cynicism," Dawson says. "And the thing that makes it really complicated, makes it hard to understand, is that on the one hand, it seems to be a really good thing … Look at the fact that we questioned what used to be common sense assumptions about gay rights or equality for women or racial discrimination, stuff like that. I think they're all part of the same trend that leads us to question our idols as well."
Despite her distrust, Rickling, for one, says she "would like to believe that we still like our fairy tales" and hopes our cynicism only runs deep when it comes to the shallow Tinsel Town. But perhaps it's misguided to be nostalgic for the days when the masses ate what Hollywood fed them. As Dawson says, "The question is: Who is better off? Are we better off, or are people who thought Liberace was straight and he just couldn't find the right girl?" We'd mull that over, but we just heard Taylor Swift has a new boyfriend.
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Photo Credit: WENN (3); ABC; E!]
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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.