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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
Hit mob series The Sopranos and TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee lead the 2007 Primetime Emmy Award nominations with 15 and 17 nods, respectively.
The Sopranos is nominated for Best Drama, while the show's star James Gandolfini has been praised in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series category for his role as mafia boss Tony Soprano. Costar Edie Falco, who portrayed Carmela Soprano, is up for the Outstanding Lead Actress award, while Michael Imperioli, Aida Turturro and Lorraine Bracco have also received nods for their supporting roles.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee scooped nominations including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for stars August Schellenberg (who plays Sitting Bull) and Aidan Quinn (Senator Dawes), while Anna Paquin (Elaine Goodale) is nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
Meanwhile, actress Mary-Louise Parker scored two nominations for two different roles--Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (The Robber Bride) and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Weeds).
But the Primetime Emmy nominations--announced on Thursday--had a big shock in store for fans of Desperate Housewives, Lost and Kiefer Sutherland's 24--all three programs missed out on the Best Drama category. Instead, The Sopranos will battle it out against Heroes, Boston Legal and medical dramas House and Grey's Anatomy.
Elsewhere, hit comedy Ugly Betty was nominated in 11 categories, including Best Comedy Actress for star America Ferrera and Outstanding Comedy Series, where it will compete against Entourage, 30 Rock, Two and a Half Men and The Office.
The 59th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast live from Los Angeles on Sept. 16.
The main category nominations are as follows:
Outstanding Comedy Series:
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty Outstanding Drama Series:
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:
Extras - Ricky Gervais
Monk - Tony Shalhoub
The Office - Steve Carell
30 Rock - Alec Baldwin
Two and a Half Men - Charlie Sheen
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Boston Legal - James Spader
House - Hugh Laurie
Rescue Me - Denis Leary
The Sopranos - James Gandolfini
24 - Kiefer Sutherland
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:
Desperate Housewives - Felicity Huffman
The New Adventures of Old Christine - Julia Louis-Dreyfus
30 Rock - Tina Fey
Ugly Betty - America Ferrera
Weeds - Mary-Louise Parker
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series:
Brothers & Sisters - Sally Field
The Closer - Kyra Sedgwick
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Mariska Hargitay
Medium - Patricia Arquette
The Riches - Minnie Driver
The Sopranos - Edie Falco
Outstanding Reality Program:
Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan
Extreme Makeover Home Edition
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Outstanding Reality-Competition Program:
The Amazing Race
Dancing with the Stars
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie:
Broken Trail - Robert Duvall
Jesse Stone - Tom Selleck
Longford - Jim Broadbent
Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King - William H. Macy
The Ron Clark Story - Matthew Perry
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie:
Life Support - Queen Latifah
Prime Suspect: The Final Act (Masterpiece Theatre) - Helen Mirren
The Robber Bride - Mary-Louise Parker
The Starter Wife - Debra Messing
What If God Were the Sun - Gena Rowlands
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
Entourage - Kevin Dillon
Entourage - Jeremy Piven
How I Met Your Mother - Neil Patrick Harris
The Office - Rainn Wilson
Two and a Half Men - Jon Cryer
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
Boston Legal - William Shatner
Grey's Anatomy - T.R. Knight
Heroes - Masi Oka
Lost - Michael Emerson
Lost - Terry O'Quinn
The Sopranos - Michael Imperioli
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie:
Broken Trail - Thomas Haden Church
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - August Schellenberg
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Aidan Quinn
The Christmas Card - Edward Asner
The Starter Wife - Joe Mantegna
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
My Name Is Earl - Jaime Pressly
The Office - Jenna Fischer
Two and a Half Men - Holland Taylor
Two and a Half Men - Conchata Ferrell
Ugly Betty - Vanessa Williams
Weeds - Elizabeth Perkins
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
Brothers & Sisters - Rachel Griffiths
Grey's Anatomy - Katherine Heigl
Grey's Anatomy - Chandra Wilson
Grey's Anatomy - Sandra Oh
The Sopranos - Aida Turturro
The Sopranos - Lorraine Bracco
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie:
Broken Trail - Greta Scacchi
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Anna Paquin
Longford - Samantha Morton
The Starter Wife - Judy Davis
Tsunami, the Aftermath - Toni Collette
Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program:
79th Annual Academy Awards - Ellen DeGeneres
The Colbert Report - Stephen Colbert
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Jon Stewart
Late Show with David Letterman - David Letterman
Tony Bennett: An American Classic - Tony Bennett
Prime Suspect: The Final Act
The Starter Wife
Outstanding Made for Television Movie:
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Inside the Twin Towers
The Ron Clark Story
Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy
Outstanding Children's Program:
Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: Private Worlds: Kids and Autism
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody
That's So Raven
When Parents Are Deployed
Click here to view the complete list of nominations.
COPYRIGHT 2007 WORLD ENTERTAINMENT NEWS NETWORK LTD. All Global Rights Reserved.
At first glance The Family Stone appears to be yet another silly romp about family dynamics. But the Stones a vivacious loving liberal-minded New England family are more than just cardboard cut-outs; they’re as real as any dysfunctional family can be. The film begins with the Stones getting ready for their annual holiday gathering. Matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) is especially anxious to meet her eldest son’s (Dermot Mulroney) girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). The family has been warned Meredith is a controlling neurotic New Yorker with very little redeemable qualities. And when Meredith arrives she certainly does nothing to dispel the notion meeting her potential eccentric in-laws with a mix of awkwardness confusion and hostility. Yet oddly enough the disruption brings about some needed changes within the family Stone allowing them to come together and realize their extraordinary capacity for love. Everyone in this stellar ensemble rises to the occasion and truly paints a very vivid picture of a family devoted to one another--but who are less than approachable to outsiders. As mom Keaton turns in yet another genuine look at a complicated woman dealing with some insurmountable obstacles while Craig T. Nelson as her loyal husband does a nice job conveying a warmth to their marriage. Playing their grownup children is Mulroney as the straight-laced “suit” Everett who isn’t all that priggish; Luke Wilson as the laid-back Ben who seems to have strayed the most from his family; and Rachel McAdams as the passionate if rather acerbic little sister. But the real revelation is Parker as the uptight highly unlikable Meredith. It’s quite a departure from her fun-lovin’ Sex
and the City days and the Parker--who truly is one of the better comedic actresses we have today--easily handles the unpleasant chores of playing someone suffering with chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome. Like many newbie filmmakers writer/director Thomas Bezucha--whose only other credit is the little seen indie Big Eden--has the advantage of having that certain fresh quality to his work. Stone’s dialogue is snappy poignant and spot-on as the Stones interact with each other in all too familiar ways. The whole Meredith scenario will perhaps have many of us remembering similar situations--from both sides of the fence. It’s just as painful to have to meet the family of someone you love for the first time as it is dealing with a family member’s poor choices in mates. And what makes
The Family Stone stand out even more is how Bezucha truly defines the term “dramedy.” From the trailer the film seemed to be a balls-out slap-sticky comedy which in many ways it is but you may be surprised to see how The Family Stone’s more serious tones will touch you.