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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The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., March 19, 2000 - Rene Russo, the actress, didn't win any awards for her head-turning performance in "The Thomas Crown Affair." But tonight here at the Beverly Hilton, Rene Russo, the haircut, did. Welcome to the first-ever Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards, where the above-the-title stars take back seats to behind-the-scenes primping professionals.
Yes, it was the beauty folks' turn to make Oscar-like acceptance speeches and bask in the praise of thankful A-list celebrities who they've made look good, "day after day, year after year, facelift after facelift," as host Rita Rudner drolly put it.
"It's the American dream that I've heard so much about. It's happening to me right now," hair stylist Enzo Angileri said, accepting the so-called Georgie award for doing Russo's do in "Thomas Crown," named best contemporary hairstyling work.
Decades ago, hair and make-up people were treated like celebrities themselves. But the list of big names attending the awards ceremony showed that, while movie and TV beauticians may no longer make it into the gossip columns, they nonetheless are held in high esteem by those who do.
"It's an art form," said actor Billy Bob Thornton, an award presenter. As if to prove that point, Thornton showed up in full make-up (complete with oily gray hair) and costume (a Slim Whitman-meets-Colonel Sanders outfit) from "Waking Up In Reno," a film he's now shooting, in which he plays an aging country singer.
"A lot of people don't realize how much time we spend in make-up, how many hours we spend being literally transformed by these artists," he said.
Other name brands handing trophies included: Holly Hunter, Brendan Fraser (greeted by cat-calls from the audience), Ellen Burstyn, Mimi Rogers, and cast members from TV shows like "That 70's Show," "Freaks and Geeks," and "Providence." Before the event, crowds of fans and electronic lined the Beverly Hilton lobby as the stars rolled in.
Tony Curtis presented the lifetime achievement award to makeup artist Monty Westmore, who recently retired after a 50-plus-year career that included more than 100 films, ranging from "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" with Humphrey Bogart to the forthcoming "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with Jim Carrey.
Unlike the Oscars, which have been plagued by mishaps this year despite 72 years of experience, the Georgies basically survived their first go-round with almost no problems. Ballots were mailed out to the 1,100 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 706, who voted on the 17 different award categories. And the golden statuettes, which look vaguely Oscar-like, didn't disappear en route to the event.
But note the phrase: Almost no problems. Amid the celebration, two important items were missing: The champagne and sunglasses. The champagne ordered for the ceremonies never arrived, and was believed to have been delivered to another hotel. And the Calvin Klein shades that were to be supplied by the designer label and given out to the presenters, also were no-shows.
When informed of this caper, actress Christina Applegate (of "Jesse" fame) was understandably dejected.
"Was I supposed to get some glasses?" Applegate said. "Darn."
Here's a complete look at the night's winners:
Best Contemporary Makeup (Feature) Toni G and Will Huff "The General's Daughter."
Best Period Makeup (Feature) Leonard Engleman, "Tea With Mussolini."
Best Character Makeup (Feature) Kevin Yagher, Peter Owen, Elizabeth Tag and Paul Gooch, "Sleepy Hollow."
Best Effects Makeup (Feature) Greg Cannom and Wesley Wofford, "Bicentennial Man."
Best Contemporary Hair Styling (Feature) Enzo Angileri "The Thomas Crown Affair."
Best Period Hair Styling (Feature) Vivian McAteer, for Cher in "Tea With Mussolini." Television TELEVISION
Best Contemporary Makeup (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) James MacKinnon and Stephanie Fowler, "Thank You Providence," "Providence."
Best Period Makeup (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf, Kevin Westmore and LaVerne Basham, "Triangle," "The X-Files."
Best Character Makeup (Television) Jennifer Aspinall, Felicia Linsky and Ed French, Episode #507, "Mad TV."
Best Makeup Effects (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Kenny Myers, Todd A. McIntosh, Robin Beauxchesne, Douglas Noe, and Brigette Myre-Ellis, "Living Conditions," "Buffy The Vampire Slayer."
Best Period Makeup (For a Mini-Series or Movie of the Week) Sue Cabel, Matthew Mungle and Joe Hailey, "And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story."
Best Character Makeup (For a Mini-Series or Movie of the Week) Douglas Noe, for Cicely Tyson in "A Lesson Before Dying."
Best Contemporary Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Darrell Fielder, Jonathan Hanousak and Joy Zapata, "The Final Frontier," "Mad About You."
Best Period Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series -- Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Gabriella Pollino, Deborah Piper, Valerie Scott and Cindy Costello, "Prom Night," "That 70's Show."
Best Character Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Josee Normand, Charlotte Parker and Gloria Montemeyor, "Bride of Chaotica," "Star Trek Voyager."
Best Innovative Hair Styling (For a Single Episode of a Regular Series - Sitcom, Drama or Daytime) Josee Normand, Charlotte Parker and Gloria Montemeyor, "Dragon's Teeth," "Star Trek Voyager."
Best Period Hair Styling (For a Mini-Series or Movie of the Week) Marlene Williams and Tim Jones "And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny & Cher Story."