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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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Last night, viewers were treated to a particularly emotional Grammy Awards. Naturally, the tributes to the deceased Whitney Houston were some of the most moving moments of the night, and in recent television. But many rising artists had a lot to celebrate; particularly, Adele, who swept the awards with four major wins. Check below for a complete list of winners from the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, and for a recap, hop over to our Seven Things You Need to Know About the 2012 Grammys list.
Album of the Year
21 by Adele
Record of the Year
"Rolling in the Deep" by Adele
Best New Artist
Best Country Album
Own the Night by Lady Antebellum
Song of the Year
“Rolling In The Deep” by Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, songwriters (Adele)
Best R&B Album
F.A.M.E. by Chris Brown
Best Rock Performance
“Walk” by Foo Fighters
Best Rap Performance
“Otis” by Jay-Z and Kayne West
Best Pop Solo Performance
“Someone Like You” by Adele
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
“Body and Soul” by Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse
Best Pop Instrumental Album
The Road from Memphis by Booker T. Jones
Best Pop Vocal Album
21 by Adele
Best Dance Recording
“Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by Skrillex
Best Dance/Electronica Album
“Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by Skrillex
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Duets II by Tony Bennett & Various Artists
Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance
“White Limo” by Foo Fighters
Best Rock Song
“Walk” by Foo Fighters
Best Rock Album
Wasting Light by Foo Fighters
Best Alternative Music Album
Bon Iver by Bon Iver
Best R&B Performance
“Is This Love” by Corinne Bailey Rae
Best Traditional R&B Performance
“Fool For You” by Cee Lo Green & Melanie Fiona
Best R&B Song
“Fool For You” by Cee Lo Green, Melanie Hallim, Jack Splash
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
“All Of The Lights” by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie
Best Rap Song
“All Of the Lights” by Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West
Best Rap Album
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
Best Country Solo Performance
“Mean” by Taylor Swift
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
“Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars
Best Country Song
“Mean” by Taylor Swift
Best New Age Album
What’s It All About by Pat Metheny
Best Improvised Jazz Solo
“500 Miles High” by Chick Corea
Best Jazz Vocal Album
The Mosaic Project by Terri Lyne Carrington & Various Artists
Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Forever by Corea, Clarke & White
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
The Good Feeling by Christian McBride Big Band
Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music
“Jesus” by Le’Andria Johnson
Best Gospel Song
“Hello Fear” by Kirk Franklin
Best Contemporary Christian Music Song
“Blessings” by Laura Story
Best Gospel Album
Hello Fear by Kirk Franklin
Best Contemporary Christian Music Album
And If Our God Is For Us… by Chris Tomlin
Best Latin Pop, Rock, Or Urban Album
Drama Y Luz by Maná
Best Regional Mexian Or Tejano Album
Bicentenario by Pepe Aguilar
Best Banda Or Norteno Album
Los Tigres Del Norte And Friends by Los Tigres Del Norte
Best Tropical Latin Album
The Last Mambo by Cachao
Best Americana Album
Ramble At the Ryman by Levon Helm
Best Bluegrass Album
Paper Airplane by Alison Krauss & Union Station
Best Blues Album
Revelator by Tedeschi Trucks Band
Best Folk Album
Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars
Best Regional Roots Music Album
Rebirth of New Orleans by Rebirth Brass Band
Best Raggae Album
Revelation Pt 1: The Root Of Life by Stephen Marley
Best World Music Album
Tassili by Tinariwen
Best Children’s Album
All About Bullies… Big And Small
Best Spoken Word Album
If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t) by Betty White
Best Comedy Album
Hilarious by Louis C.K.
Best Musical Theater Album
The Book of Mormon: Josh Gad & Andrew Rannells; Anne Garefino, Robert Lopez, Stephen Oremus, Trey Parker, Scott Rudin & Matt Stone (producers); Robert Lopez, Trey Parker & Matt Stone (composers/lyricists)
Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media
Boardwalk Empire: Volume 1: Various Artists
Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media
The King’s Speech by Alexandre Desplat
Best Song Written For Visual Media
“I See The Light (From Tangled)” by Alan Menken & Glenn Slater, songwriters (Mandy Moore & Zachary Levi)
Best Instrumental Composition
"Live In Eleven” by Béla Fleck & Howard Levy, composers (Béla Fleck & The Flecktones)
Best Instrumental Arrangement
“Rhapsody In Blue” by Gordon Goodwin, arranger (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band)
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)
“Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” by Jorge Calandrelli, arranger (Tony Bennett & Queen Latifah)
Best Recording Package
Scenes From the Suburbs, Caroline Robert, art director (Arcade Fire)
Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package
The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge of Town Story by Dave Bett & Michelle Holme, art directors (Bruce Springsteen)
Best Album Notes
Hear Me Howling!: Blues, Ballads & Beyond As Recorded By the San Francisco Bay By Chris Strachwitz In The 1960s, Adam Machado, album notes writer (Various Artists)
Best Historical Album
Band On the Run (Paul McCartney Archive Collection — Deluxe Edition), Paul McCartney, compilation producer; Sam Okell & Steve Rooke, mastering engineers (Paul McCartney & Wings)
Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Paper Airplane, Neal Cappellino & Mike Shipley, engineers; Brad Blackwood, mastering engineer (Alison Krauss & Union Station) Producer Of the Year, Non-Classical Paul Epworth
Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical
“Cinema (Skrillex Remix)” by Sonny Moore, remixer (Benny Benassi)
Best Surround Sound Album
Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (Super Deluxe Edition), Elliot Scheiner, surround mix engineer; Bob Ludwig, surround mastering engineer; Bill Levenson & Elliot Scheiner, surround producers (Derek & The Dominos)
Best Engineered Album, Classical
Aldridge: Elmer Gantry, Byeong-Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (William Boggs, Keith Phares, Patricia Risley, Vale Rideout, Frank Kelley, Heather Buck, Florentine Opera Chorus & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) Producer Of the Year, Classical Judith Sherman
Best Orchestral Performance
“Brahms: Symphony No. 4” by Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
Best Opera Recording
“Adams: Doctor Atomic” by Alan Gilbert, conductor; Meredith Arwady, Sasha Cooke, Richard Paul Fink, Gerald Finley, Thomas Glenn & Eric Owens; Jay David Saks, producer (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
Best Choral Performance
“Light & Gold” by Eric Whitacre, conductor (Christopher Glynn & Hila Plitmann; The King’s Singers, Laudibus, Pavão Quartet & The Eric Whitacre Singers)
Best Small Ensemble Performance
“Mackey: Lonely Motel — Music From Slide” by Rinde Eckert & Steven Mackey; Eighth Blackbird
Best Classical Instrument Solo
“Schwantner: Concerto For Percussion & Orchestra” by Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Christopher Lamb (Nashville Symphony)
Best Classical Vocal Solo
“Diva Divo” by Joyce DiDonato (Kazushi Ono; Orchestre De L’Opéra National De Lyon; Choeur De L’Opéra National De Lyon)
Best Contemporary Classical Composition
“Aldridge, Robert: Elmer Gantry” by Robert Aldridge & Herschel Garfein
Best Short Form Music Video
“Rolling In The Deep” by Adele; Sam Brown, video director; Hannah Chandler, video producer
Best Long Form Music Video
“Foo Fighters: Back And Forth” by Foo Fighters; James Moll, video director; James Moll & Nigel Sinclair, video producers Grammy Trustees Award Dave Bartholomew, Steve Jobs, and Rudy Van Gelder
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.