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
In 2004, esteemed directing pair the Coen Brothers wrote and directed The Ladykillers, a crime-comedy starring an actor known best for his dramatic work (at least in recent years), remade from a well-liked but not particularly momentous mid-20th Century film. It was... okay. Kind of funny, highly wacky, a little uneven, largely unsubstantial. Not quite their next The Big Lebowski. But clearly, they had fun working within these parameters, as they're returning to the field with Gambit.
Derived from a 1966 crime comedy, the Coens' Gambit stars Colin Firth in a screwball turn as a hapless shlub of an art curator whose boss (a maniacal Alan Rickman) is the bane of his existence. Firth teams up with a Texan accented Cameron Diaz to pull one over on Rickman's insolent millionaire character via an elaborate ol'-switcheroo involving a priceless painting. From the looks of the trailer, the movie is even zanier than the premise would suggest.
It's interesting that the Coens would choose to return to a project so readily comparable to their '04 not-quite-revered Ladykillers. Following a string of critically acclaimed dramatic masterpieces (No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, True Grit), the pair stands at an all-time high in creative reputability. They did sign on to write Gambit (Michael Hoffman is directing) back in '03, perhaps in the interest of funding their own projects, so that alone could explain the choice. But maybe these two geniuses — the men whose dark, complicated minds brought us the desperation of Fargo, the haunting stillness of No Country, and the moving devotion of True Grit — just really think these wacky, zany, screwball stories like Ladykillers and Gambit are genuinely hilarious. That's the explanation I prefer.
[Photo Credit: CBS Films]
'Identity Thief': Melissa McCarthy Won't Go Down Without A Fight — TRAILER
You Won't Recognize Tim Heidecker in 'The Comedy' Trailer
New 'Life Of Pi' Trailer: That's One Visually Epic Movie — TRAILER
Tomorrow morning the television world will find itself rocked when Kerry Washington and Nick Offerman announce the nominations for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards (which has a snazzy new poster, left). Will Parks & Recreation finally get its due? Will Homeland or Downton Abbey upset the drama categories' status quo? Will Girls, New Girl and Veep make a splash and join the ranks of recurring comedy favorites?
It's a year that could be loaded with some pleasant (and some not-so-pleasant) surprises, and we'll all find out tomorrow morning. For now, our team of TV experts at Hollywood.com has compiled our predictions for who will get honored, who will get bumped and who will throw Emmy voters for a wild loop. Check out our predictions below, and check back in for our Emmys coverage in the weeks leading up to the ceremony (which Jimmy Kimmel will host at L.A.'s Nokia Theatre on September 23rd):
Best Drama Series
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
Sons of Anarchy
Homeland’s in. Dexter’s out. With Downton Abbey submitting as a drama instead of a miniseries, there’s a shake-up to be had, and the show perhaps most in jeopardy is The Good Wife (which had its "moment" last year).
Best Comedy Series
Parks & Recreation
The Big Bang Theory
Curb Your Enthusiasm
It’s a surprisingly wishy-washy year for a usually solid category. Don’t count on The Office like Emmy has in years past; instead, place your bets on newcomers New Girl or Girls (there’s a trend here somewhere) to nab a spot. Although Curb Your Enthusiasm will enthusiastically return to the category, the equally-deserving Louie may have to fight for a major nomination (Louis C.K. himself will get a nod, perhaps in redemption). And never count out dark horse Community, which is having a much buzzed-about year.
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Louis C.K. (Louie)
Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)
Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory)
Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
Ashton Kutcher (Two and a Half Men)
Joel McHale (Community)
Will Arnett (Up All Night)
Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation)
Parsons and Baldwin are category staples, and C.K. is having the best year of his career, so the first half of the ballot is already set. The Academy has shown no lack of love for Jon Cryer, who is submitting for lead this year (and will probably be happily surprised); new co-star Ashton Kutcher also submitted for lead, but he likely won’t find himself at the top of the bill (it’ll either be big name Don Cheadle or Big Bang’s once-nominated Johnny Galecki). You can bet that either Joel McHale (probably) or Will Arnett (probably not) will take a sixth spot for their comedic romps in two of this year’s buzziest comedies.
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)
Laura Dern (Enlightened)
Christina Applegate (Up All Night)
Laura Linney (The Big C)
Jane Levy (Suburgatory)
Laura Linney, Martha Plimpton and Edie Falco will make room — and rightfully so — for funnier performances by Deschanel, Dunham and Louis-Dreyfus. It’s also important to remember that Melissa McCarthy’s nod-and-win last year was largely reactionary, thanks to Bridesmaids; her spot this year for Mike & Molly is not guaranteed. Laura Dern could fill a sixth slot, if Linney doesn’t steal it back.
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire)
Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
Hugh Laurie (House)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Damian Lewis (Homeland)
Kelsey Grammer (Boss)
Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
Dustin Hoffman (Luck)
Timothy Olyphant (Justified)
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey)
Jason Isaacs (Awake)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Obviously with five “shoo-ins,” the entire category looks to be mostly locked, as it is every year. Buscemi, Hamm and Cranston won’t budge, and Laurie will stay on the ballot for the last season of House. Expect Michael C. Hall to be given the boot from his usual slot to make room for Homeland’s brilliant enigma Damian Lewis. The sixth spot could go to Kelsey Grammer, an obvious choice for the middling Boss, but Grammer likely won’t get the same love from Emmy that he got from the HFPA at the Globes earlier this year. If Downton Abbey dominates the year overall, patriarch Hugh Bonneville could fill the vacancy; otherwise, it’s a toss-up between Dustin Hoffman, Timothy Olyphant and Hall again.
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU)
Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy)
Glenn Close (Damages)
Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey)
Debra Messing (Smash)
Madeleine Stowe (Revenge)
The race for leading actress is relatively inflexible — Margulies and Danes will duke it out for the actual trophy, while mainstay Hargitay will more than likely keep her prime spot on the shortlist (whether or not she deserves to is another matter). Elisabeth Moss will definitely make the cut after another consistent season-long performance on Mad Men. Glenn Close will probably have the edge on the criminally under-awarded Katey Sagal, while wildcard (and Emmy crush) Debra Messing could pop up to demonstrate the Academy’s courteous appreciation for Smash.
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
Max Greenfield (New Girl)
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation)
Ed O’Neill (Modern Family)
Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family)
Jeremy Piven (Entourage)
Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)
When it comes to the Modern Family guys, Burrell and Stonestreet are guaranteed locks, but O’Neill and Ferguson — who have been jilted in the past — are only high-possibility potentials (O'Neill had a stronger season presence, and Ferguson had an impressive finale). NPH must be relieved that Jon Cryer has bumped himself up to the leading race, but he faces competition from newcomer Max Greenfield, the fan favorite of Fox’s New Girl. The wrench in the plan is either Nick Offerman, who may finally earn his much-deserved nomination for Parks & Recreation, or Jeremy Piven, who could return to glory for the final season of Entourage (but probably won’t).
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)
Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
Betty White (Hot in Cleveland)
Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
Kristin Chenoweth (GCB)
Cheryl Hines (Suburgatory)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)
Maya Rudolph (Up All Night)
No surprises lie with Bowen, Vergara or Wiig — and, frankly, with White, although her inclusion is more of a necessity than a commentary on the Emmy worthiness of Hot in Cleveland. Hines is a fan favorite and Chlumsky shines on Veep, but it’s Kristin Chenoweth who will mark this season’s new addition to the ballot for her star turn on GCB (smart move, submitting as supporting, even though ads for the cancelled soap played her up as its lead).
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Josh Charles (The Good Wife)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad)
John Slattery (Mad Men)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire)
Walton Goggins (Justified)
Robert Sean Leonard (House)
Jared Harris (Mad Men)
Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men)
Could Robert Sean Leonard’s return to House’s final season or Jared Harris’s emotional finale on Mad Men mean nominations that bump out John Slattery or Michael Pitt? Potentially, although more so for Leonard than Harris. But I’d count on Mandy Patinkin popping up in this category alongside favorites Dinklage, Paul and Charles. (Oh, and Esposito is compulsory here.)
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski (The Good Wife)
Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)
Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire)
Megan Hilty (Smash)
January Jones (Mad Men)
Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men)
Anjelica Huston (Smash)
Lana Parrilla (Once Upon a Time)
It’s a damn free-for-all in this category, but there’s surprisingly little wiggle room. Megan Hilty could eke out a nomination for standing out (for all the right reasons) on Smash, but it’s no promise, especially considering that the Smash presence at the Emmys may be limited. If not Hilty, then Mad Men’s January Jones may get another chance to win for her impressive Fat Betty.
How'd we do? Think we got it right, or totally wrong? Let us know in the comments!
[Photo Credit: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences]
2012 Emmy Longshots: Our Picks!
Shocking Murder-Suicide at Daytime Emmy Awards Hotel
2012 Emmy Longshots: 'Revenge' Diva in Residence Madeleine Stowe
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
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.
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.