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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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In the trailer for this new animated Disney film Planes, we watch as Dusty, a crop duster who wants to compete in a famous race, soar to new hights with the help of his other plane friends. Yes, it is Cars in the air. While this movie is bound to touch a lot of hearts when it is released in theaters Aug. 9, it has already shown its appeal to actor Anthony Edwards, who does the voiceover for the character Bravo in the film.
Edwards was excited to work on Planes because flying holds a special place in his heart. "I actually became a pilot two years ago, so I started flying on my own," he told Hollywood.com recently. And let's not forget Edwards other famous aeronautical role: as the ill-fated Goose (spoiler alert!) in Top Gun alongside Tom Cruise. "The truth is, Top Gun was such a big deal in a lot of people’s minds that, that character just keeps coming back," he said.
Over all, Edwards enjoys doing voiceover work. "They make it pretty easy," he said. "It’s just another fun way of telling a story, and you do it in a really controlled way. It's amazing to me the amount of work that goes on after you give the voice, what they have to do. So, you're a small part of a very big wheel." Sorry, Anthony, you're going to have to leave the talk of wheels to Cars.
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While ABC is trying its hand at another nighttime soap in Mistresses, the network's two other prime-time dramas are much more serialized and mythology-driven in nature. Red Widow, based on the Dutch series Penoza, stars Radha Mitchell as a woman who becomes a Russian crime boss after her husband is murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Zero Hour is much more ambitious in nature, and revolves around a conspiracy theory somehow involving clocks, Nazis, and kidnapping.
Stars and producers from both series gathered to discuss their shows at ABC's presentations during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Here's what they had to say about Red Widow, which premieres Sunday, March 3 at 9 p.m. before moving to the 10 p.m. time slot, and Zero Hour, which debuts Thursday, Feb. 14 in the 8 p.m. hour.
Twilight screenwriter and former Dexter executive producer Melissa Rosenberg adapted Red Widow from Penoza, a Dutch series. "What drew me to the project in the first place was this character," she explains of her desire to do the show. "This is a flawed female character, as all human beings are. It's a very human character. And I think that's something that has been really exciting to bring to network television."
Flaws are usually reserved for males, Rosenberg says, while women are supposed to have it together. "We've had on cable and then on network these male characters that are very flawed and complex, like Tony Soprano [The Sopranos] and Dexter [Dexter]and Vic Mackey [The Shield]. And then we've just begun to have that on cable for women in the form of Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie and [Mary Louise Parker on] Weeds. And now I think this show is bringing that kind of a character to network. It's a very tricky character to sell to an audience, because women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha, you have compassion for her. You are with her. Her experience is universal."
ABC ordered eight episodes of the series, something Rosenberg, whose past TV credits are in cable, appreciates. The original Dutch show is "very cablesque in its tone and its edge in terms of the characters and the moves that they make. When I went to meet with Paul [Lee, ABC Entertainment president] and everybody, I was wary because I said, 'I don't want to pull back on the edge for this or the storytelling for network.' I also felt that because this is a very character-driven show that it's not something that lends itself as well to 22 episodes. The one advantage that cable has over network [has] nothing to do with censors or violence or sex or any of that. It is time. If you have time to write a good show and you have time to develop it, you get good storytelling."
While Red Widow deals with more of an overarching story, Zero Hour is a multilayered mystery series with former ER star Anthony Edwards at its head. Edwards plays a magazine editor who must debunk a worldwide conspiracy when his wife (Jacinda Barrett) is abducted from her antique clock shop. But although it is packed with different elements, creator Paul Scheuring says he doesn't think it's too complicated to follow.
"I have a great amount of respect for the audience. Especially the new generations that are coming up beneath us — they're steeped in such narrative. They know narrative construct. They know all the tropes," Scheuring says. "So if you deliver them the cop show where the cop seems to smell odors better than other cops, it's like, nobody cares. If you give them something where they're like, 'Wow, this is different and new and they're treating me with a certain amount of sophistication,' then they're more liable to watch. And I may be wrong about that, but that's my philosophy. I'd rather go down swinging like that as opposed to go to the lowest common denominator and go 'Hey, man.'"
Because of that respect, Scheuring and his team don't plan to leave viewers hanging on for too long. Scheuring explains, "One of the things I've learned from Prison Break and making a serialized show was that if you're a single conceit show — like Prison Break or Lost or such — sooner or alter you star flapping your wings because a story needs to end. ... I kind of applied that wisdom to the construct of this show, which is it's like the 24 model where you reset every year. This entire Nazi conspiracy thing will be done in Episode 13 this year, but we have a group of investigators headed by Anthony at the magazine who can then apply those skills to the next investigation next year."
Adds executive producer Zack Estrin, "We're not going to make you wait until the end of the year to find out your answers. Specifically, Episode Four you know what that thing is that we're saying was hidden beneath the church. That's not the big mystery. That's just one of many mysteries. In each episode you will find out a piece, we will turn a card, there will be a cliffhanger."
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Rick Rowell/ABC]
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Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Brett Ratner is going to prison. Well, kind of.
The director/producer -- best known for his heartless action and comedy work (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand) -- just optioned the 2008 memoir The Reluctant Communist by Charles Robert Jenkins and Jim Frederick as a future directing vehicle. The book is the true story of Jenkins' 1965 desertion and 40-year imprisonment in North Korea. The picture will follow Jenkins as he, while drunk, surrenders to the North Koreans and goes to jail. However, the film will take on various tones as it moves from drama to incidental comedy and back. The story sounds like a chronicle of a very bizarre and interesting life.
"He was forced to act in (propaganda) movies as an American bad guy, and he became kind of a celebrity," said John Cheng, a Rat Entertainment executive who is producing the film. "People would come up to him on the street, because they recognized him from the films. Cheng added that Ross Katz (HBO's Taking Chance) is writing the screnplay.
Anyway, this looks like a solid opportunity for Ratner to help everyone forget about X-Men: The Last Stand. But, this is a different type of world for the director. Usually, he's all into explosions and less into emotions. This story -- at least the outline of the memoir -- seems to be filled with more character development than dynamite. If Ratner can't handle the change of pace, the whole thing might implode.
While we know that Jim Carrey can kill it in dramatic roles (see: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the man made his name as one of the greatest physical comedians of our time (see: The Mask). So I was thrilled to hear that Carrey is going to be exercising his peculiar comedic sensibilities once again with direction from one Larry Charles, director extraordinaire of Borat, Bruno, and several of the better episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage, for which he also wrote.
Carrey will headline Pierre Pierre as a "self-indulgent, lazy, French nihilist who is transporting a stolen Mona Lisa from Paris to London," who along the way "comes to love his home country again."
In 2008, the movie's screenplay ranked 11th on Hollywood's famed 'Black List', which ranks scripts based on an annual poll of around 150 development executives and other high-level assistants. Fox Searchlight paid around a million dollars upfront for the screenplay, from newcomers Edwin Cannistraci and Frederick Setoff.
Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) was originally attached to direct, but the project fell to Charles when Reitman dropped out. Now, Escape Artists' Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, and Steve Tisch, as well as Category 5's Brian Sher, are producing the flick with a planned $20 million budget.
It sounds like a winning combination of talents to me. Carrey is just the kind of comedic actor to make this movie work: his ability to take an otherwise ordinary scene and make it somehow iconic (see video below!) puts him in a class all by himself. Well, except perhaps Sacha Baron Cohen, whom Larry Charles last worked with on Borat and Bruno. Hopefully the director will find a way to build Pierre Pierre around Carrey's strengths the same way he did for Cohen.
Keira Knightley is in talks to play Eliza Doolittle in a feature update of the classic musical My Fair Lady. The film is set to be produced by Duncan Kenworthy, who worked with Knightley on 2003’s Love Actually. London theater bigwig Cameron Mackintosh, who has produced two stage revivals of My Fair Lady, is also a producer.
Variety says that although the film is being called an update, it will use the original Lerner & Loewe score and retain its 1912 setting. Elements of the original play, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion--upon which the 1956 musical was based--will be incorporated to dramatize the emotional highs and lows of Doolittle as she evolves from Covent Garden flower girl to high street lady under the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins. Alan Jay Lerner's book of the Broadway musical will serve as the primary basis for the adaptation.
My Fair Lady, with book and lyrics by Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was first staged in 1956 with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Audrey Hepburn and Harrison starred in the Oscar-winning George Cukor-directed film in 1964.
The producers intend to shoot the film on location in the original London settings of Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Tottenham Court Road, Wimpole Street and the Ascot racecourse, notes Variety.
Kenworthy told Variety, "With 40 years of hindsight, we're confident that by setting these wonderful characters and brilliant songs in a more realistic context, and by exploring Eliza's emotional journey more fully, we will honor both Shaw and Lerner at the same time as engaging and entertaining contemporary audiences the world over."
In the original film, Higgins comes across Doolittle during a night out at the theater. Her ear-bending accent offends his linguistic sensibilities and, on a bet, he ultimately takes her in promising to teach her ‘proper’ English and manners saying she will be able to pass off as a lady at a ball by the time he’s done. Doolittle struggles with the grueling lessons and the pair bicker endlessly. But in the end, she ultimately shines and finds a true bond with Higgins--in a love-hate sort of way.
The musical spawned such timeless songs as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “The Rain in Spain.” In the original film, Hepburn’s singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon.
Actor Jim Carrey has joined the $13 million comedy Pierre Pierre. The film is a politically incorrect story about a self-indulgent French nihilist who moves a stolen painting from Paris to London.
Jason Reitman, the Oscar-nominated director of 2007’s breakout hit Juno, is attached to direct, according to trade papers Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
The script for Pierre Pierre, written by Edwin Cannistraci and Frederick Seton, set off a bidding war in Hollywood before being purchased by Twentieth Century Fox specialty division Fox Atomic for $1 million.
Carrey, who is currently shooting A Christmas Carol for director Robert Zemeckis, will next appear--by voice only--in the animated version of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!. The film also features the voices of Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Dane Cook and Isla Fisher, among others.
After that, he’ll star in Yes Man, from The Break-Up director Peyton Reed. In the film, Carrey plays a man who has challenged himself to say yes to everything for a year. Zooey Deschanel, Danny Masterson and Terence Stamp also star.
As for Reitman, he will next produce the cheerleader-from-hell comedy-thriller Jennifer's Body, which Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) is directing. The script for Jennifer’s Body was written by Juno’s Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody.