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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Greetings fellow The Voice watchers and welcome to the Knockout Rounds! Since many of my East Coast colleagues are busy dealing with the wrath of Hurricane Sandy (stay safe, y’all!), I am “stepping up to the mic,” as it were, and taking over The Voice recapping duties for the time being. Now to be honest, I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show here and there, but anything involving the words “singing battles,” “knockout rounds,” and “Adam Levine” sounds like a good time to me. So let’s get started!
With no more steals to fall back on, the pressure was on in full force for the remaining 40 contestants, especially since only half of them (that’s 20 for you anti-math fans like myself) will be selected for the show’s live playoffs by week’s end. Yikes!
Last night featured Team Adam vs. Team Cee Lo…
The first two to face off were Joselyn Rivera and Kayla Nevarez. Since both girls have a similar pop star quality sound, Adam wanted to get these two side by side to see which one deserves to advance to the next round. In a bold move, Rivera tackled Beyoncé's “Love on Top” song and managed to hit a wide variety of hard-to-reach notes (well, at least most of them). Nevarez, on the other hand, opted to play things a little safer by giving a cautious rendition of “Shark in the Water” by V V Brown. Though Adam was very pleased with both performances, he preferred Joselyn’s risky approach and advanced her to the next round.
Next up was Joe Kirkland vs. Bryan Keith, who also share a similar sound (I think I’m starting to understand the strategy here). In a surprise choice, Joe belted out “Mean” by Taylor Swift, while Bryan went for the swoon approach with “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)” by Bryan Adams. Joe may have had the risk factor in this one, but Bryan’s spot-on performance proved that he has the talent to make any song (even the romantic, cheesy ones) his very own. So it’s Bryan for the win!
Then came Amanda Brown who sang “Paris (Ooh La La)” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals vs. Michelle Brooks-Thompson, who performed “Spotlight” by Jennifer Hudson. Talk about two powerhouse voices, these girls have it in spades. Amanda brought sass and vocal firepower, while Michelle showed off some serious artistic range. And while they both seemed to kill it out there (Christina called it a real singer’s battle), Adam decided to go with his gut and keep Amanda. Personally, I agree with the choice. That girl’s singing chops deserve a proper chance in the spotlight.
Next we had Loren Allred sing “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse against Nicole Nelson, who chose to perform “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys. According to the rehearsal footage, it looked like Nicole was the preferred favorite, however, Loren had a truly stellar performance, making all of the coaches speechless and completely wowed. Adam wanted her to stop sounding like a wedding singer and take on a deeper, darker edge. Well, wish granted! It was a truly incredible breakout moment that left Adam with only one choice: he had to pick Loren. Let’s hope there’s more where that came from. Loren, welcome to the dark side!
Last up for Team Adam, Melanie Martinez took on “Bulletproof” by La Roux, while Sam James performed “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. Sam’s style was fun, but it lacked the vocal strength necessary to stay in the competition at this point. That being said, I think he is just adorable and I want us to be best friends (seriously, can we make this happen, please?). But regardless, Melanie’s albeit breathy performance was far superior, so it’s no surprise Adam sent her into the playoffs. Now we just need her to get rid of that hair bow.
Team Cee Lo:
First up was Avery Wilson (singing Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3x”) vs. Cody Belew (singing “Jolene” by Dolly Parton). It seemed to be an off night for Avery, who was trying to do a little too much all at once when he really should’ve been focusing on how his voice sounded (thus the name of the show). But instead of giving the guy some leeway, Cee Lo decided to send him packing, sending Cody off to the next round. And just like that, the guy everyone thought would win it all, doesn’t even make it to the playoffs! Oh Cee Lo, you really are one unpredictable fella.
Next up was Mackenzie Bourg vs. Daniel Rosa – who both had very unique song selections. While Mackenzie performed Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Daniel sang “Back to December,” making this the second Taylor Swift song of the night – both performed by guys (is this a trending thing now?). But unlike Daniel’s rather forgettable rendition, Mackenzie completely changed up the monotonously catchy tune into something that was – dare I say – kinda awesome? I know, you guys. I shouldn’t like it, but I did. By the end, even his opponent was singing along. This dude has my vote! And apparently he has Cee Lo’s too since he sent Mackenzie on to the next round. (Maybe we should lay off the Taylor Swift songs for a while, gentlemen).
Then came Terisa Griffin who went up against Trevin Hunt in a seemingly flawed move on Cee Lo’s part. These are two amazing singers who both deserve to go on to the playoffs, so why pit them against each other so soon? But hey, that’s just one girl’s opinion. Terisa sang the classic Whitney Houston song “Saving All My Love for You,” which was just as emotionally powerful as it was vocally. Seriously, this girl can bring tears to your eyes faster than any Nicholas Sparks book. But then there’s Trevin, who did an equally strong performance with Phil Collins’ hit “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).” Seriously, why does either of them have to go home? This is like the Sophie’s Choice of singing competitions. But sadly, a decision did have to be made and Cee Lo chose to save (drumroll please)…Trevin!
The next knockout battle was between Mycle Wastman and Nicholas David, who both have very soulful voices. Mycle went with Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” It was good and everyone loved it, but then again, that could have more to do with the song than the actual performance. Meanwhile, Nicholas sang a lively rendition of “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae, making this yet another guy opting to sing a girl song (was this an intentional theme for the night?). It was fun, but I wasn’t overly thrilled. Perhaps now that I’ve heard Trevin sing, no other guy can match up. Even the coaches seemed split on what to do. But in the end, Cee Lo made the decision to keep Nicholas.
And last but not least was Caitlin Michele (singing “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence) vs. Diego Val (singing “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz). The song choices were actually pretty perfect for each of their individual styles. There’s no doubt Caitlin has the stronger vocal talent, but Diego really knows how to liven up a crowd with all that energy of his. None of the coaches seems all that thrilled with either performance (probably because they’re still in shock over Terisa’s unnecessary elimination. I’m not bitter or anything). But regardless, Cee Lo chose to advance Diego into the playoffs.
And look – this means Cee Lo has picked five guys and zero girls to go on to the live shows. I’m not sure if this makes him utterly foolish or a complete genius. We’ll find out soon enough! But in the meantime, what did you think of last night’s eliminations? Sound off in the comments below.
The Voice returns Tuesday for another two-hour Knockout episode starting at 8 p.m. – this time between Team Blake and Team Christina.
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[Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC (2)]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.