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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When crafting a follow-up to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time it’s understandable that one might be reticent to mess with a winning formula. But director Todd Phillips and writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong seem to have confused revisiting with recycling: The Hangover Part II so closely mirrors its blockbuster predecessor in every vital aspect that it can scarcely claim the right to call itself a sequel.
The only significant new wrinkle introduced in Part II is its setting: Bangkok Thailand a location that at least theoretically augurs well for a second helping of inspired lunacy. The story structure of the first film has been copied wholesale a game of Mad Libs played with its script. The action is again set around a bachelor party this time in honor of buttoned-down dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Again the boys (Stu Bradley Cooper’s boorish frat boy Phil and Zach Galifianakis’ moronic man-child Alan) awaken the next day in a hideously debauched hotel room with little memory of the previous night’s revelry. And again there is a missing companion: Teddy (Mason Lee son of Ang) the brother-in-law to be. (Poor Justin Bartha is once again relegated to the sidelines popping up now and then to push the plot forward via cell phone.)
The amnesiac/investigative angle of the first Hangover made for a refreshing twist on the contemporary men-behaving-badly comedy. Repeated here its effect is arguably the opposite: Too often the action feels rote and formulaic. Gone is any hint of surprise an aspect so crucial to good comedy and a huge part of the first film’s appeal. Key comic set pieces – a tussle with monks at a Buddhist temple a visit to a transsexual brothel a car chase involving a drug-dealing monkey – reveal themselves to be merely variations of memorable bits from the first film.
Tonally Part II is darker cruder and a bit nastier than its predecessor. Female characters never a priority in the first film are further marginalized in the sequel. (The only woman with significant dialogue a Bangkok prostitute also happens to have a penis. I’ll let you ponder the implications of that one.) The three leads Helms Cooper and Galifianakis still work well together and despite the inferior material enough of their chemistry remains to make the proceedings bearable – and occasionally funny. But their characters feel somehow degraded reduced to coarse caricatures of their former selves. Speaking of caricature Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) the fey faux-gangsta villain of the first film returns in an expanded capacity in the sequel his garbled hip-hop slang more gratuitous – and more grating – than before.
I can’t help but wonder what might have been if a planned cameo by Mel Gibson playing a tattoo artist hadn’t been scrapped reportedly due to objections by Galifianakis. Liam Neeson Gibson’s replacement apparently proved ineffectual in his first go-round and when he wasn't available for re-shoots his scene was eventually shot with Nick Cassavetes in the role. In its existing incarnation the scene is purely functional a chunk of forgettable exposition. The presence of Gibson an actor of not inconsiderable comic talent would have at least added an air of unpredictability something the scene – and indeed the movie – sorely lacks.
When the trailer for The Hangover Part II came out, we did not see anything regarding Liam Neeson's cameo as the Bangkok tattoo artist (who we assumed was responsible for Ed Helms' incredible Mike Tyson tattoo). We accepted this though, because it wasn't like Todd Phillips was going to put the most exciting parts of the movie in the trailer -- especially since he knows we're going to see it anyway and it's not like he has to do anything fancy in order to get us to show up in the theaters. But it turns out that unfortunately, Liam Neeson's cameo in the movie was cut. Variety reported the reason for its removal, and it was because Phillips wanted to re-shoot the scene, but Neeson was not available. So the role was then handed off to Nick Cassavetes, who just gave Lindsay Lohan a job in his upcoming Gotti movie. But quite honestly, I think Phillips could have tried a little harder and taken a second jab at getting Clinton.
The boxing champion was a big hit in the first movie, and director Todd Phillips recently revealed he had lured Tyson back for an appearance in the sequel, which is currently shooting in Thailand.
And a surprise star was spotted on set with actors Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper earlier this month (Nov10) - Clinton has filmed a cameo for the comedy, according to TMZ.com.
Mel Gibson was also lined up to appear in the second Hangover instalment, but he was axed from the sequel after his recent personal troubles and was replaced by Liam Neeson.
The Hangover: Part II is set for release next year (11).
Looks like the Nard-Dog has a fiancee that's a babe.
Jamie Chung (Sorority Row, upcoming Sucker Punch) just joined the cast of The Hangover 2 to play Stu's (Ed Helms) fiancee. So it appears that the hopeful relationship left at the end of the first film, with Heather Graham's beautiful Jade, didn't turn into anything. (Or in reality, they probably couldn't get Graham for the sequel).
Anyway, it seems like Chung could create a character who is a perfect fit for Stu. In the first movie, he grew up. He started as a pushover engaged to, as my co-worker Sam describes, a "dehumanizing psycho bitch of a woman" and matured into a man sure of himself. So, what better match for a man with new confidence than a smokin' hot, exotic woman like Chung.
This is the latest tidbit in a whole slew of recent Hangover 2 news. Last week, Mike Tyson announced that he'd be returning for the sequel (and will probably punch Allen in the face again) and Liam Neeson would replace Mel Gibson's guest spot. And, director Todd Phillips said that Luke Wilson's sex-crazed ex-wife from Old School would make an appearance. One word: awesome.
Sequels have a habit of letting me down, so I'm trying to control my excitement for The Hangover 2, but with the entire cast returning on top of all the other additions, it's hard not to have high expectations.
Source: The Playlist
So, who gets a right cross from a former heavyweight champion now?
Mike Tyson is set to reprise his cameo role in The Hangover 2. There's no word yet on how he'll be involved, but hopefully, we'll see some more of his Phil Collins fandom.
And surprisingly -- although most of the cast didn't like the idea of a Mel Gibson cameo (which led to Liam Neeson taking the role) -- Tyson was cool with it. He told The New York Post that he would've worked with the star "100 percent." He added, "I'm not going to ever in my life point my finger at anyone. I don't live in a glass house. None of us do. I work with anyone, as long as they're respectful."
Pretty classy words from a dude who bit off a man's ear in the ring and was convicted of rape.
Regardless, in other Hangover 2 news, remember Luke Wilson's character's crazy sex-addicted ex-wife in Old School, played by Juliette Lewis? Well big news, she's coming back, and so's the dude -- played by director Todd Phillips himself -- who was "here for the gangbang."
"She now has two kids," Phillips said at a press conference for his upcoming film Due Date. "Are they Will Ferrell‘s kids? They might be. I don’t know. [Laughs] We’ll have to wait and see. That scene just created itself in a weird way. I just show up on the set -- I’m usually high first thing in the morning -- and we just kind of figure it out."
Well, I'm not sure what else to write after that quote. The Hangover 2 is just going to be awesome.
Source: The Playlist and New York Post