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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After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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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.
Yes, summer -- known to music lovers as the season of the monster tour -- is here. (Well, all right, technically it's not here 'til about the 21st, but whatever.) For our purposes, summer is on. But with the number of stadium tours -- Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, Metallica, Dr. Dre, Santana, etc. -- gearing up for the road in the coming months, chances are some acts will be squeezed out at the box office.
Case in point: Diane Ross and the Supremes. The legendary Motown trio kicks off its 30-date, two-and-a-half-month-long tour tonight in Philadelphia. And looks like neither the pre-launch hype (doing Oprah) nor the controversy (doing it without the original members) has helped. Response for the tour has been lackluster, and what’s more, there’s no sign that sales will pick up.
Is Miss Ross the victim of an oversaturated market? Perhaps.
"There’re a lot of different acts touring this season," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the tour industry mag Pollstar. "Summer concert business is very busy. And there’s probably more business than the market can handle."
With that thought in mind, here’s a look at some of the acts that’ll be competing for your paycheck (or allowance) this summer.
Reunions and Comebacks (aka Old Farts)
"The Supremes -- Return to Love": A reunion tour (of a sort), with only one of the group’s three original members (hello!), Diana Ross, on the bill. Besides the hammy presence of Miss Ross, expect rehashing of golden Supremes oldies and excessive costume changes on a tour that’s slated to end Aug. 5 in Vegas. The Who
"The Who -- Greatest Hits Tour": Everyone else has done it, so why not the Who? Brace thyself: The old guards (literally) of British rock are brushing up their dentures for a 20-date tour that’ll kick off at the World Theater in Chicago on June 25. Unlike their previous outings, the lineup this time around is decidedly small. In addition to original members Pete Townshend (guitarist), John Entwistle (bassist) and Roger Daltrey (vocalist), the five-piece band will also include new guys Zak (son of Ringo) Starkey (drums) and John Bundrich (keyboards).
Bob Dylan: Fans who missed Dylan’s brief tour earlier this year may breathe a sigh of relief. The reclusive music legend is coming back out for a 32-date U.S. tour that’ll start in Portland, Ore., on Friday. Repeat viewings are recommended. It’s been said that Dylan doesn’t play the same song list every night.
Santana: Now we don’t know if all those musicians Santana collaborated with on "Supernatural" are going to be there, but the multiple Grammy winner is definitely going to hit the concert trail. His summer tour, covering the United States and Canada, will begin July 20 in Florida and will end Oct. 26 in Vancouver, B.C.. Teen Spirit and Barely Legal (aka Future Has-Beens)
Ricky Martin: This guy's still living la vida loca. (Yes, we’re so clever!). Pop king Martin has plunged straight into the second leg of his world tour after finishing a series of sold-out dates in Europe. The pelvic gyrations and bon-bon shaking began June 9 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and will finish July 27 in Portland, Ore.
Britney Spears: Perhaps it’s the "rake-‘em-in-while-you’re-hot" mentality, but 18-year-old Britney Spears seems to have no intention to ever stop touring. On the road since March, the popstress will come back from a two-month hiatus to resume her North American dates on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. After the tour wraps (on Sept. 5), word has it that the teen princess has her eyes set on Europe for her next round of assault.
Christina Aguilera: Couldn’t get Britney tickets? No worries, just go see Christina Aguilera. The millennium’s new Tiffany has finally got what every teenybopper wants -– her very own headlining tour. With Destiny’s Child in the opening slot, the tour opens July 31 in Milwaukee and ends Sept. 25 in Florida.
‘N Sync: It doesn’t take a genius to guess that ‘N Sync, the boybanders who sold 2.4 million copies of their sophomore album "No Strings Attached" in one week, can also sell out entire stadiums. The group's current full-length U.S. tour started in May. It's scheduled to end July 30 in Hershey, Pa., -- let the scalping begin. Mosh Pit and O.G. (aka The 16-24 Male Demographic)
"Up in Smoke" tour: This much-anticipated rap package brings together some of the most respected old-school and new-school gangsta acts (including Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dog, Eminem and Warren G.), not to mention some of the baggiest pants you’ve ever seen. The 25-date tour begins Thursday in Chula Vista, Calif., and will wrap in Florida on Aug. 2.
Pearl Jam: Seattle’s second best-known grunge band sets out to prove that -- after all these angst-ridden years -- they can still push T-shirts and bumper stickers on the kids. Playing in support of their sixth album, "Binaural," Pearl Jam will inaugurate an extended 40-date U.S. tour in Virginia on Aug. 3. The tour is tentatively scheduled to end in the boys’ home city Nov. 5.
"The Summer Sanitarium Tour": Aren’t those boys cute when they’re angry! Noisy boybands Metallica, Korn, Kid Rock, System of a Down and Powerman 5000 headline the festival tour that’s sure to awaken the nihilistic impulses of sheltered suburban kids. The mayhem kicks off June 30 in Foxboro, Mass., and will end July 16 in Queen Creek, Ariz. Other Country Elements (aka A Sans Garth Brooks Summer)
The Dixie Chicks
"Fly Tour 2000": Apparently, Christina Aguilera is not the only virgin here. This summer, the Dixie Chicks have also decided to set out on their first headlining tour. The trio's five-month itinerary kicked off June 1 in Canada. "Soul2Soul Tour": The two souls in question are none other than Mrs. Tim McGraw and Mr. Faith Hill -- or as they're more popularly known, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. The country power couple jointly hits the road on a 23-date tour beginning July 12 in Atlanta.