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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If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
Over the summer, beloved Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts went public about her struggles with Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a blood and bone marrow disease. Fans were subsequently told that Roberts would be taking leave from her spot on the ABC morning program, and that she would be undergoing treatment and a bone marrow transplant for her condition. Roberts underwent the surgery on Thursday; ABC News reports that the operation was completed in only five minutes. Robins' sister Sally Ann provided the donor cells with which the GMA host was injected.
Following the procedure, Robins is reported to have made the following statement: "I will now wait and anxiously watch and see what happens ... In the next seven to 10 days my counts will continue to go up and we’ll be on to phase three, which will be get out of here. Get out of here. Go home. It’s a journey."
Dr. Gail Roboz, Robins' oncologist from New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, appeared on Good Morning America Friday morning to share some encouraging words about Roberts' recovery. "This morning she sounds energized and she wants to be out of bed, and the end [an] email was, 'I want to go home' with an exclamation point," Roboz said. Roboz also expressed her amazement with the incredibly quick procedure: "Nobody can believe it ... People have in their mind all kinds of images of what can happen in a transplant, but it’s still an incredibly powerful moment."
Roboz went into detail about the procedure and where Robins' treatment will take her from hereon out. "Inside of that syringe are millions and millions of stem cells that are now circulating around and trying to find their home and start growing, which is what we’re going to be looking for over the next couple of weeks," she said. “We have to roll with the punches over the next few days because, don’t forget, her systems are down and Sally-Ann’s aren’t up yet so we’re in that in between zone of watching very carefully. We are wanting every day to be a good day but we are ready for some bumps in the road."
ABC News reports that Robins' colleagues Sam Champion and Diane Sawyer were among those in the operation room with the anchor during the procedure.
[Photo Credit: Wenn]
Robin Roberts Addresses Fans in a Heartfelt Video Prior to Bone Marrow Transplant
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Top Story: "Love Doctor" Luther Vandross Suffers Stroke
R&B singer-songwriter Luther Vandross suffered a stroke Wednesday, just days before his 52nd birthday, his label J Records said on Thursday. The singer, who has battled weight and health problems for years, is undergoing medical treatment at an undisclosed hospital. "Vandross is under medical care, and his family and friends are hopeful for a speedy recovery," Carmen Romano, the entertainer's business manager, told Reuters. The five-time Grammy winner became a frequent fixture on the urban music charts, but mainstream success eluded him until 1989, when he enjoyed his first Top 10 pop hit with "Here and Now," from the compilation album, "The Best of Luther Vandross ... The Best of Love. " The song has since become a classic wedding ballad.
Couric and Leno Trade Places for a Day
NBC's Today show co-host Katie Couric and Tonight Show host Jay Leno will switch jobs for a day on May 12, Reuters reports. "People like her, she has an infectious personality, and she's so cute that if she bombs, she can get away with it because she's cute," Leno told Access Hollywood. Leno will interview U.S. officials on the reconstruction of Iraq while Couric will talk to Joan Rivers about the comedian's latest plastic surgery.
"Friends" Stars Design Recliners for Charity
Friends stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer have teamed up with La-Z-Boy to design six unique versions of the popular reclining chair, a spokesman for the company said. The recliners will be auctioned on eBay from May 12- 22, with proceeds going to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Pam Grier's "Wilder" Gets DVD Release
Wilder, a never-released action film starring Pam Grier as a tough single-mom cop, will come out on video on May 13. Produced by Canadian-based Cinequest Films three years ago, the film will be distributed on DVD and VHS by Florida-based firm MTI. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the company has come on strong in the home video market during the past year by digging up little-known pics with popular stars and developing a brand of twisted B-horror films with outrageous plots that border on comedic insanity.
HBO Pulls Oliver Stone's Castro Documentary
HBO has pulled director Oliver Stone's documentary about Cuban President Fidel Castro from its May schedule because of Cuba's recent crackdown on dissidents. "In light of recent events, we felt unless Oliver Stone can return to Cuba and interview Castro...it was somewhat dated and incomplete," an HBO spokeswoman told Reuters Thursday. Comandante was made in February 2002 with Stone and his crew taping some 30 hours of conversations with Castro over a three-day period.
Dr. Robert Atkins Dies
Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who endured decades of criticism over his low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, died Thursday at the New York Weill-Cornell Medical Center after suffering a severe head injury during a fall, The Associated Press reports. He was 72. Atkins' book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, was dismissed as nutritional folly by the American Medical Association when it was first published in 1972, but his approach was finally vindicated earlier this year when a half-dozen studies showed people on the Atkins diet lost weight without compromising their health.
Detroit Preps for Hip-Hop Summit
Eminem and hip-hop veterans Rev. Run (Run D.M.C.) and Doug E. Fresh are among those who will take part in the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network's (HSAN) April 26 Detroit summit, Billboard.com reports. The event, which will take place at the city's 13,000-capacity Cobo Hall, will focus on youth empowerment and will operate under the theme "Remix: Rebuilding, Refocusing, Reinvesting, Resurgence." Tickets, which are free of charge, are available on a first come, first served basis.
Role Call: Willis Forgets Amnesia Pic
Bruce Willis has dropped out of the amnesia thriller Me Again two months before it was set to shoot. According to Variety, producer-distributor Intermedia, which recently laid off employees and slashed production deals, could no longer afford Willis' $25 million price tag and the actor did not want to renegotiate his salary. Willis was also due to collect nearly $5 million more for the producing efforts of his partner in Cheyenne Enterprises, Arnold Rifkin, and his brother, producer David Willis. Diane Lane remains in the pic's female lead.