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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In addition to releasing their own explicit videos and having parents who are already famous, celebrities have become notorious for their effortless, immaculate good looks. But in recent decades, the public has discovered that they aren’t necessarily an elite group of naturally beautiful people, more like surgically altered attention whores. Typically, when we hear about plastic surgery, we picture the extreme cases like Pamela Anderson opting to carry the equivalent of a small child on her chest; or Joan Rivers, whose face is now pulled back so far that she has officially changed ethnicities. So you can imagine our surprise when our friend, Lisa Kudrow, recently admitted to the Saturday Evening Post that she got a nose job at the age of 16.
“I went from, in my mind, hideous to not hideous,” Kudrow told Lawrence Grobel. She described the surgery as “life-altering,” and explained further: “I did it the summer before going to a new high school. So there were plenty of people who wouldn't know how hideous I looked before. That was a good, good, good change.”
Undergoing a nose job before reaching the legal age to vote seems to be the antithesis of the character who Kudrow is most well known for playing, the formerly homeless hippie Phoebe Buffay. But it’s clear that she isn’t the only celebrity who's used rhinoplasty as a catalyst to a career. Throughout the years, alleged before-and-after photos have surfaced of other celebrities that raise some serious questions about the validity of Hollywood's nasal passages. Ryan Gosling, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston and Tyra Banks are a few celebrities who are often praised for their beauty. And yet after seeing these photos, it’s hard not to picture all of them crying to their parents about their insecurities as snot dripped from their bulbous, average people noses.
There’s one photo, however, that really causes us to wonder how long this has all been going on:
Getty Images / WENN
Before becoming Marilyn Monroe, it’s rumored that Norma Jeane Mortenson underwent rhinoplasty, a chin implant, had her teeth straightened and her hairline raised. Plastic surgery was relatively new in the late 1940s, so her transformation went surprisingly under the radar at the time.
Whether it’s Lisa Kudrow getting a nose job at 16, Heidi Montag having ten surgeries in one day, or Marilyn Monroe pioneering what we’ve come to know as general cosmetic procedures, we know that it’s pretty common for drastic measures to be taken for beauty under the scrutiny of the public eye. Perhaps as a society, one day we can change our expectations of what celebrities look like, judge them at their craft and allow them the freedom be as ugly as everybody else. But, we probably shouldn’t.
At Any Price is a movie that desperately wants to be taken seriously, but it fails to leave a mark. Writer/director Ramin Bahrani's fifth feature film is a family drama that combines the desperation of the middle class businessman trying to stay afloat with the hot button issue of genetically modified crops, then throws in a chafing father/son relationship and the everyday disappointments of growing up. Somehow, it's both too much and not enough.
The Whipple family and their problems encapsulates the predicament of Midwestern famers who are driven to desperate measures to stay afloat. This isn't the same homestead that the ancestors of Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) once farmed; it's big biz agriculture, which means Henry's out hustling genetically modified seeds and snatching up land from graveside families of freshly dead farmers. His Glengarry Glen Ross-style exhortations to "Always Be Closing" is emphasized by a sort of sweaty and pathetic performance from Quaid, who manages to be both charming and loathsome.
Naturally, Henry has a favorite son, the athletic and handsome Grant (Patrick Stevens), whom Henry and his wife Irene (Kim Dickens) actually roll out a red carpet for in anticipation of his return. (Surprise: He's more interested in traveling the world than returning to Henry's clutching embrace.) That leaves Dean (Zac Efron) to take over the family business, even though he'd much rather hang out with his sh*tkicker friends and race cars and make out with his hot girlfriend Cadence (Maika Monroe).
The cinematography is sweeping and beautiful; those amber waves of grain sway hypnotically, lulling us into the sort of complacency that makes it perfectly acceptable to eat food that was tweaked out in a lab. Efron and Quaid are a perfect father and son pair: the Type A aging golden boy versus the fiery-tempered teen who eventually trades his sleeveless T-shirts for a nicely pressed button-up. Of course, dressing like your dad and actually having an affair with his mistress (Heather Graham, in a role as thankless as Dickens') is another. T
The core idea of At Any Price is to put a human face on the changing nature of agriculture, and not just how it affects the food on our shelves but the farmers who've had to change the nature of their livelihood to keep pace. Trying to build a drama around an idea is difficult, especially such a big and political one. The dynamics between Henry and Dean are nothing new or interesting; the only time you really feel the pain of intergenerational disappointment is when Henry meets with his father and you see that it's all a game of trying to live up to a father figure that will never be satisfied.
At Any Price also deals with the shadier nature of the corn business, but it's a dramatic development that lacks the sort of urgency that the title of the movie implies. Although on paper it would seem the stakes are high in At Any Price, documentaries about subsidized farming or GMO crops are far more alarming.
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Now that ABC has announced the dancing partners for each of our Dancing With the Stars All-Stars, the real excitement can begin. Luckily for you, we've got the scoop on everyone's chances from DWTS dancer and La Blast Fitness creator Louis Van Amstel, who stopped by our New York office to school us in DWTS alumni.
With his help, we'll get you prepared for this 15th season of ABC's dancing hit.
Kirstie Alley and Maks Chmerkovskiy
Season 12, Runner-Up
Claim to Fame: Actress and Jenny Craig spokeslady
Louis says: "It was a lot of fun to watch her and she was so determined to make it to the finals just by sheer work — and she made it. Now the downfall is literally the fall. Literally, she and Maks fell. So All-Stars is redemption time for Kirstie."
Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke
Season 3, Winner
Claim to Fame: Former Dallas Cowboys Star
Louis says: "That personality was just so contagious. Everybody loved Emmitt and he beat probably the best dancer on that season, Mario Lopez... It’s about personality, mixed in with great, fun dancing. And that’s what Emmitt brings to the table... Sports athletes have an advantage in learning ability just because their physical condition, but Emmitt has such soul when he danced. He really wasn’t that spicy out there. He had soul, he had such musicality... That’s his secret weapon."
Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas
Season 11, 3rd Place
Claim to Fame: Reality Star, Sarah Palin's Daughter
Louis says: "It’s quite surprising [to see her here] from dancing ability alone... But she was the fan favorite, somehow she got the votes. She was brought back every week, so she deserves to be here in the All-Star season. But she’s got to work that out for her, because she’s got, from 13 celebrities, 11 of them have dance ability. So she’s got to work hard and show her ability through the dance and she might actually, again, surprise America… I’m rooting for Bristol, she’s a very down-to-earth woman and her disadvantage of not being an entertainer, not being a sports person and yet somehow, she’s holding her own."
Pamela Anderson and Tristan McManus
Season 10, 6th Place
Claim to Fame: Former Playmate and Baywatch Babe, generally bodacious.
Louis says: "Pamela Anderson, in my opinion, I think somehow surprised the world. She worked really hard, you could see that she wanted to be there ... She didn’t take it for granted, and she could actually move. And let’s not forget her sex appeal. I mean, [she has it] with all those Latin dances and she really embodies Marilyn Monroe when she does the Ballroom dances. And that’s going to be her strength, even though she was in the Top 6, she wasn’t in the Top 3 or the champion like some of these other people. Right now, I’m banking Pamela Anderson as the underdog."
Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson
Season 4, Runner-Up
Claim to Fame: Um, only the biggest boy band ever, *NSYNC.
Louis says: "I love that guy. I just finished Dancing With the Stars in Vegas with him and he’s just so down-to-earth. He’s funny and he works hard and he gets the job done. I mean, no wonder he was second — he lost to Apolo Ohno who is also coming back — so it’s really interesting with the dynamic from the first and second place [winners] from the same season coming back again. And then also, there's Drew Lachey who won Season 2, and they’re buddies ... They were from different boy bands in the ‘90s and yet now they’re on the same show. Drew won, Apolo won, Joey was second and they’re all coming back to get it."
Helio Castroneves and Chelsie Hightower
Season 5, Winner
Claim to Fame: Indy 500 Winner
Louis Says: "He might be the least known on paper here, but the guy was not known in his season either and he won. He did an amazing job, and again you could see the hard work with him. You could see that he wanted to be there, and America likes that. America likes to vote for people who are willing to put their souls on the line, put their hearts on the line, and really work hard ... If you just take it easy, people won’t vote for you. And Helio was a good example of a true athlete and he was there, he came and he wanted to win and he took it. Will he now though? Because there are six former champions on DWTS. So it’s really going to be an interesting and exciting for the public."
Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani
Season 8, 3rd Place
Claim to Fame: Former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, plus a stint on The Bachelor.
"Melissa Rycroft had a disadvantage when she came into her season. She started one day before the live show: Nancy Odell was supposed to be on but she hurt her knee and she had to pull out, and at the last minute Melissa came in and she made it to the finals. So for her to come back to the All-Star season, having three weeks to prepare, I think everybody has to watch out for her. She has the cheerleading, not only the background of dance and skill of movement, but also the drive. She’s got the drive and now she’s a mom, so she’s got that vulnerability inside of her. Melissa Rycroft is the one to look out for."
Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough
Season 8, Winner
Claim to Fame: Oh, you know, just a handful of Olympic Gold Medals in Gymnastics, NBD
Louis says: "With Shawn Johnson, it’s going to be very interesting to see whether she has an advantage or a disadvantage because last time she won she’d just come off of the Summer Olympics and now it’s the Summer Olympics and she’s in the audience watching. She just retired because of her knee issues, but will that be an advantage or a disadvantage? I don’t know. We’ll find out Week 1, because again, it’s not just her. You have six past champions all wanting to win."
Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Season 1, Winner
Claim to Fame: In some rights, DWTS itself, but she was also a Playmate and soap opera actress.
Louis says: "Kelly Monaco won Season 1 and I was on Season 1 and I love [her]. She was so down to earth, she was just doing her job ... But there was a controversy there because people had all these thoughts that John O’Hurley should have won and they had a dance off, and they somehow gave it to John O’Hurley while really Kelly Monaco was the better dancer. And a lot of people, really, tuned in for Season 2. So really, for Kelly Monaco it's going to be like the first time she’s on … She’s the one with a very hard upbringing. She has a fighting spirit. She’s feisty. And she was a playmate so was Pam Anderson, and they were both on Baywatch, so we’ll see what’s going on between them two — let’s see who has the bigger boobs... well, I think that’s not even a question."
Drew Lachey and Anna Treybunskaya
Season 2, Winner
Claim to Fame: Duh, he was in 98 Degrees, though he has gained a bit more notice from heavy DWTS involvement.
Louis says: "[Drew] has the most memorable freestyle to this day... “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy” has brought him back to the show. He hosted while Samantha Harris was giving birth to her baby and he did a great job. Also, he did three out of the four tours that we did across the country, so he’s come back the entire 15 seasons, either in the audience, as a cohost, or dancing, and he was good. He's another down-to-earth boy from Ohio … and you could see that. What I love about Drew is that he’s every down-to-earth, but on the dance floor he’s business. He gets off and he’s back down-to-earth. And he is very close friends with Joey Fatone, who is the same. They goof around, they joke. They’re both very funny. Put them in a room together, it’s going to be fireworks. But put them on the dancefloor, they mean business."
Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff
Season 4, Winner
Claim to Fame: Olympic Champion and the only speed skater you know by name.
Louis says: "He literally came to the show and he wiped everybody off the dance floor. He surprised so many people, because he is far from being a dancer and he is phenomenal. And yes, he rode off the Winter Olympics when he came on, but I don’t think that’s going to stop him or the voting public because he is adorable and he was great as a dancer [with] no dance experience at all. And he beat Joey Fatone and he’s back [too]."
Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd
Season 8, Runner-Up
Claim to Fame: Other than DWTS, you may recognize him as the "hot shower guy" from the Sex and the City movie.
Louis Says: "Gilles Marini comes back just for one thing: revenge... and redemption. Part of that is because he only lost by one percent to Shawn Johnson. One. So he wants redemption. Because [his and Cheryl Burke's] choice of music and choreography for that freestyle [in Season 8] was the wrong choice. We all know it and even they know it, and that cost them their shot. So, Gilles Marini has a big chance to do well again. To his credit, his big thing was that I dont think anyone knew who Gilles Marini was. He had that sexy scene in the shower in Sex and the City the movie, but other than that I dont know if people knew [him well enough] for him to be that close, actually one percent away from America’s Sweetheart. She'd just won Gold at the Olympics in Bejing and Gilles Marini almost took it from her. That just goes to show you that Gilles Marini is going to be in for maybe another surprise."
Wildcards*: Sabrina Bryan (Season 5), Carson Kressley (Season 13), and Kyle Massey (Season 11)
*Fans will vote online to determine the 13th and final DWTS All-Star contestant
Louis says: "The exciting thing this season is that the 12 celebrities are already out there, but the third celebrity is chosen by America … All three are adorable people, I know them well and I consider them friends, but if you look at each individual, Kyle Massey was second and he went as far as he could ... Carson went as far as he could … Sabrina Bryan, on the other hand, was voted off midseason with three 10s because people at home thought she was going to be safe … People have to vote. You can be voted off with three tens. So for that reason, from these three, Sabrina Bryan deserves to come back for redemption because people forgot to vote. She had a big fan base, but people just thought she was safe … I think she deserves another chance."
Which wild card will you vote for?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter at @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credits: ABC]
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