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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
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.
Vampires are set to rule the upcoming People's Choice Awards -- with blockbuster fantasy film franchise Twilight and blood-sucking TV series True Blood leading the nominations.
The public cast more than 18 million votes online to select the nominees for next year's ceremony, and it will also choose the winners in 35 categories.
The Twilight Saga will compete against Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Star Trek in the favorite-movie and favorite-film-franchise categories.
Stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner have earned nods for best onscreen team, joining fellow nominees Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), Sandra Bullock andRyan Reynolds (The Proposal), Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds, will.i.am, Dominic Monaghan and Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Pattinson and Stewart were also nominated individually for favorite movie actress and actor, and will face-off against A-listers Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp, Ryan Reynolds, Anne Hathaway, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock in their respective categories.
Lautner is also up for breakout movie actor alongside Chris Pine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sam Worthington and Zachary Quinto.
Meanwhile, True Blood was nominated for favorite TV obsession and favorite sci-fi/fantasy TV show, where it will battle against Vampire Diaries, Heroes, Lost and Supernatural.
The show's star Anna Paquin will fight it out with Blake Lively, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Katherine Heigl and Mariska Hargitay for favorite TV drama actress -- while Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Mark Harmon, Matthew Fox and Patrick Dempsey compete for the title of favorite TV drama actor.
Musically, newcomers Adam Lambert, Demi Lovato, Kris Allen, Lady Gaga and reality TV star Susan Boyle will battle for favorite breakout music artist.
Eminem, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw will go head-to-head for the favorite-male-artist accolade, while their female counterparts include Beyonce, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, Pink and Taylor Swift.
Queen Latifah will host the People's Choice Awards at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre on Jan. 6.
(c) 2009 WORLD ENTERTAINMENT NEWS NETWORK LTD. All global rights reserved. No unauthorized copying or re-distributing permitted.
The public cast more than 18 million votes online to select the nominees for next year's (10) ceremony, and will also choose the winners in 35 categories.
The Twilight Saga will compete against Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Star Trek in the favourite movie and favourite film franchise categories.
Stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner have earned nods for best on-screen team, joining fellow nominees Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal), Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds, will.i.am, Dominic Monaghan and Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Pattinson and Stewart were also nominated individually for favourite movie actress and actor, and will face-off against A-listers Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp, Ryan Reynolds, Anne Hathaway, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock in their respective categories.
Lautner is also up for breakout movie actor alongside Chris Pine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sam Worthington and Zachary Quinto.
Meanwhile, True Blood was nominated for favourite TV obsession and favourite sci-fi/fantasy TV show, where it will battle for the title against The Vampire Diaries, Heroes, Lost and Supernatural.
The show's star Anna Paquin will fight it out with Blake Lively, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Katherine Heigl and Mariska Hargitay for favourite TV drama actress - while Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Mark Harmon, Matthew Fox and Patrick Dempsey compete for the title of favourite TV drama actor.
Musically, newcomers Adam Lambert, Demi Lovato, Kris Allen, Lady Gaga and reality TV star Susan Boyle will battle for favourite breakout music artist.
Eminem, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw will go head-to-head for the favourite male artist accolade, while their female counterparts include: Beyonce, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, Pink and Taylor Swift.
Queen Latifah will host the People's Choice Awards at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre on 6 January, 2010.
A throng of celebrities will participate in the upcoming 16-part public TV show Freedom: A History of Us, which will air in January. The series will feature Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins, Angela Bassett, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams reading from personal historical accounts, Variety reports. The series is based on the controversial textbooks written by amateur historian Joy Hakim in the 1990s. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will give the show an on-air introduction.
'N Sync band member Lance Bass has received informal word from the Russian space agency that he has qualified as physically fit to fly aboard a rocket flight to the International Space Station, Reuters reports. Bass, 23, is expected to start flight training on Monday at the cosmonaut center in Russia's Star City.
Sylvester Stallone's wife, Jennifer Flavin Stallone, has given birth to their third child, The Associated Press reports. Scarlet Rose was born Saturday at a Los Angeles hospital, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces. The couple already has two daughters, Sophia, 5, and Sistine, 3.
Longtime Hollywood couple Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins may perform in an Irish production of a play based on the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Reuters, the couple has agreed in principle to appear in The Guys at Dublin's Peacock Theatre in late August. The play is based on the experiences of Anne Nelson, a professor at Columbia University's journalism school.
Elton John has resigned as chairman of Watford, a British soccer team, after a 25-year association with the club, Reuters reports. John said in a statement on the club's Web site, "With the huge changes taking place in [soccer], it is obviously necessary for the board to be led by a chairman who will be able to devote more time to the club than I have been able to." Watford finished in 14th place last season.
Former Law & Order star Angie Harmon has been cast as a trainer of teen spies in MGM's upcoming kids movie Agent Cody Banks slated for release next summer, Variety reports. The film will also star Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff of Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire.
In the Biz
British director Jonathan Glazer, who helmed Sexy Beast, has signed on to shoot the remake of the Japanese film Chaos for Universal Pictures, Variety reports. The film centers on a grifter drafted to stage the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman's wife. Robert De Niro and Benicio Del Toro are in talks to star in the project.
A half-hour reality series based on Anna Nicole Smith will premiere on E! in August. According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Anna Nicole Smith Show will take a glimpse into Smith's daily life and include her 16-year-old son, Daniel, her lawyer Howard K. Stern and assistant Kim.
The FX cable channel and Artisan Television are developing a two-hour TV movie based on American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. According to Variety, the film, tentatively titled American Taliban, will attempt to explain what motivated Lindh to fight for the Afghan extremists. If the project gets greenlighted, it wouldn't bow until 2003 at the earliest.
It looks like Sharon Osbourne will host the VH1 broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee concert on June 3. The all-star performance will feature Sharon's husband, Ozzy Osbourne, plus Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney. VH1 will air highlights of the concert, which will take place in the garden of Buckingham Palace in London, on June 9.
Rocker David Bowie may be embarking on a world tour in the near future, but not this year. In a journal posted on his official Web site, Bowie said he is often asked about doing a full-blown world tour and commented, "I have a real need to keep writing this year, and I always go with my gut feeling for what is right. Next couple of years, though? Who knows?"
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was sued for breach of contract by former business associate Tim Duffy in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, LAUNCH music reports. Duffy claims that, last summer, Ulrich forced him from his role as managing member of The Music Company, a now-defunct boutique label the two formed in 1996.
Mildred Wirt Benson, the original author of the Nancy Drew mystery series, died Tuesday at the Toledo Hospital in Ohio. She was 96. Benson wrote countless books and stories but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, a series that sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages and spawned a TV series. She wrote 23 of the 30 original stories using the pen name Carolyn Keene.
The ex-wife of NBC Studios president Ted Harbert will be allowed to keep the $92,000 she won on the network's game show Weakest Link, The Associated Press reports. NBC executives have decided to air the episode in which Julie Harmon wins the second-biggest jackpot awarded by the show. The network had originally pulled the show from its broadcast in order to make sure all the rules applied. Harmon, however, has said that she and Harbert have been divorced for nearly 15 years now and talk infrequently. NBC learned of the situation only hours before the show was to air, after someone who knew Harmon sent an email to the show's executive producer. NBC rules forbid friends and family of employees from being game show contestants to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The show will be aired without any changes and will not alert the viewers of the situation.