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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Like mother, like daughter.
Just like Sarah Palin's poll numbers when she was running as John McCain's vice presidential candidate in 2008, her daughter Bristol too is falling in the ratings. Her new reality show, Bristol Palin: Life's A Tripp, which made its primetime debut on Lifetime two weeks ago is losing viewers.
However, unlike her mom — whose own 2010 reality show Alaska raked in 5 million viewers for TLC — the younger Palin's first episode only brought in 726,000. As a result, the network is bumping the show for Dance Moms reruns. Ouch.
For those of you still watching Life's A Tripp, which chronicles Bristol's life in Los Angeles with her three-year-old son with ex-boyfriend Levi Johnston (you'll remember the controversy that caused the elder Palin), the show will now air an hour later than its original slot of 10 PM on Tuesdays.
Not to worry Bristol, if your audience numbers ever get as low as your Facebook friends (65,632), you can always try enrolling Tripp in dance classes. Apparently that's ratings gold!
Photo Credit: Lifetime
Bristol Palin's 'Life's a Tripp' Not a Trip For Audiences
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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.
Backbiting, underhandedness, betrayal and lots and lots of dirty, sexy money.
That’s the basic premise of the new hit ABC show Dirty Sexy Money about an idealistic attorney Nick (Peter Krause), who takes over his deceased dad's job as the family lawyer to a quirky, demanding, dysfunctional, influential, old money New York family called the Darlings. He unexpectedly finds himself on call 24 hours a day to tend to their legal--and sometimes illegal--needs, much to the chagrin of his lovely wife, Lisa (Zoe McLellan).
The cast also includes Donald Sutherland as the patriarch Patrick “Tripp” Darling; Jill Clayburgh as his socialite wife, Letitia; William Baldwin as the eldest Darling sibling, Patrick Jr., an aspiring politician; Glenn Fitzgerald as Brian Darling, the wayward Episcopal priest; and Blair Underwood as a Russian techno-billionaire Simon Elder and the Darlings' nemesis.
The show thrilled audiences and critics alike but just as Dirty Sexy Money was on a roll, the writers’ strike hit hard, cutting some of the show’s forward motion. Luckily, the complete first season is now available on DVD, so you can either get reacquainted or get hooked on the show before its second season airs Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 10:00 pm.
At the green carpet (green, as in money. Get it?) launch party for the DVD, in downtown L.A., Hollywood.com met some of the cast members, who weighed in on why the show has hit a chord with them:
Donald Sutherland: “It’s been very smooth and gentle. Extraordinarily, for me, creative. Creative in the best sense in that you get to call out pieces of truth and work with a genius. [Creator] Craig Wright has such a reserve of knowledge that he taps into, intellectually and emotionally, it’s substantial. It’s just one of the best exchanges I’ve had in my life.”
Blair Underwood: “My favorite episode [from the first season] is between me and Donald Sutherland’s Tripp Darling. We didn’t get to work together all that much but in that episode, Tripp calls Simon out on his agenda against the Darlings. But Simon is going to get his way, going through that family one person at a time.”
William Baldwin: “It’s not the biggest break of my career, but it is a big break in my career. It’s just incredible writing, incredible cast. A lot of film actors and writers are moving towards television. I mean, the movie industry is quiet right now, the Hollywood economy is bad, the Bush economy is bad. And I’ve got an 8, 6 and 3-year-old and to get out of bed every morning to know I’ve got this incredibly cushy gig. I live in Santa Barbara and drive down a couple times a week to knock out four or five scenes and to be in this show everyone seems to dig. It’s just a really, really incredible blessing to me.”
Glenn Fitzgerald: “I feel really lucky, such a fantastic character and the writing is so specific. It’s really not like any other thing. For an actor like, I really needed something specific. So I’m really happy to have found a place where someone like me can come in and do my thing.”
Zoe McLellan: “On a personal level, I’ve grown up a lot on the show. It’s never just about the job, there’s always layers that we dive into and peel off. I’ve realized what I really want for myself, learned how to say what I want and ask for what I want. So that’s really cool. And to be on a show where we just play and laugh a LOT.”
Of course, the one thing on the DVD they are all looking forward to is the blooper reel. “Oh, I’m probably going to be all over that thing,” Baldwin confesses. Hmmm, we’ll have to check it out! Will you?
Novelist and college teacher Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is a literary luminary on the strength of his smash first book but his follow-up is going nowhere after years of effort. Blocked emotionally as well as creatively this rumpled pot-smoking eccentric has driven away his wife and squandered another opportunity for love with his school's hubby-cheating chancellor (Frances McDormand). Then an exceptionally gifted young student (Tobey Maguire) triggers a series of misadventures that exceeds anything Grady ever dreamed up for his fiction.
In a performance that rivals his work in "Wall Street" as the best of his career Douglas grounds the film with effortless-looking naturalism and crusty charm. His knack for bringing sympathy to unsavory characters allows "Wonder Boys" to retain an edge while stealthily reaching for viewers' heartstrings. Playing a sensitive misfit coming of age for the umpteenth time is no stretch for Maguire ("The Cider House Rules") but he's touchingly effective nonetheless. The invaluable Robert Downey Jr. ("Chaplin") is delightful as Grady's stressed-out but loyal agent who hits town with a hulking transvestite on his arm.
Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") takes the fine screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") and wrings it for every drop of humor and pathos. Wise and full of heart in its sly way "Wonder Boys" is the kind of deeply satisfying piece filmmakers must have in mind when they set out to make dramas. The obvious disparity between the film's wide critical acclaim and dismal box-office performance earlier this year led Paramount Pictures to give it a rare re-release as the holiday Oscar season gets underway.