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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American Hustle, The Wolf Of Wall Street and August: Osage County have been named the early frontrunners for next year's (14) Best Picture Oscar by America's top movie critics. Respected experts like Thom Geier, Tariq Khan, Peter Travers and Thelma Adams have offered up their opinions on the favourites in awards news website GoldDerby.com's first Oscars countdown odds of the year.
David O. Russell's 1970s period film American Hustle leads the way with 9/2 odds, closely followed by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio's latest collaboration, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Meryl Streep's latest August: Osage County comes in third, while the Coen Brothers' folk music film Inside Llewyn Davis and George Clooney and Matt Damon's The Monuments Men also make the top five.
Russell is the early favourite for the Best Director award, while Robert Redford leads the way in the Best Actor category for his high seas drama All is Lost, and Cate Blanchett is the clear leader in the Best Actress stakes for her portrayal as "a tarnished trophy wife" in Woody Allen's new drama Blue Jasmine.
The Oscar nominations will be announced in January (14) and the awards ceremony will be hosted by comedienne Ellen DeGeneres in Hollywood on 2 March (14).
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
MySpace today announced that they'll be debuting the soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: New Moon today on on the once-relevant social-networking site. Fans will be able to listen to all 15 tracks from the soundtrack, which doesn't arrive in stores until October 16, in their entirety.
Compiled by music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, the New Moon soundtrack is packed with emerging artists and boasts heavy amounts of indie street cred -- presumably a tactic used by director Chris Weitz to neutralize the film against the barbs of cynical hipsters:
1. Death Cab For Cutie - Meet Me On The Equinox
2. Band of Skulls - Friends
3. Thom Yorke - Hearing Damage
4. Lykke Li - Possibility
5. The Killers - A White Demon Love Song
6. Anya Marina - Satellite Heart
7. Muse - I Belong To You (New Moon Remix)
8. Bon Iver and St. Vincent - Rosyln
9. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Done All Wrong
10. Hurricane Bells - Monsters
11. Sea Wolf - The Violet Hour
12. OK Go - Shooting the Moon
13. Grizzly Bear (featuring Victoria Legrand) - Slow Life
14. Editors - No Sound But the Wind
15. Alexandre Desplat - New Moon (The Meadow)
Clever move, Mr. Weitz. You win this battle. The war, however, is far from over.
New Moon opens everywhere November 20, 2009.