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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Fans were stunned after the beloved U.S. TV personality was found dead in his Sherman Oaks, California home on Wednesday (01Feb12) after reportedly shooting himself.
Now his son Tony Cornelius has issued a statement to U.S. news network CNN asking for time to grieve.
Tony says, "The family is saddened as we mourn the loss of Don Cornelius. At this time, we respectfully ask that you allow our family and friends the privacy necessary to get through this difficult time. We thank all the well-wishers and the fans who have supported the Soul Train legacy."
A host of stars including soul icon Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Rihanna and actress Taraji P. Henson have paid tribute to Cornelius, who is credited with introducing a host of black singers to mainstream audiences on Soul Train.
The series ran from 1971 to 2006 and featured performances from the likes of superstars including Michael Jackson and James Brown.
Charlton Heston, call your agent. Twentieth Century Fox's long-anticipated "Planet of the Apes" remake is not extinct. And ditto for -- Warner Bros.' new-look "Superman" movie may fly after all.
Word comes today from the Hollywood Reporter that these big-budget sci-fi and super-hero projects -- two of the most highly anticipated movies of the 1990s that never came to pass -- may soon be salvaged from development hell after years of on-again, off-again directors and aborted screenplays.
Fox could reportedly seal a deal with Tim Burton before the end of the week to direct its "Apes" remake, while Warner officials are said to be pleased with a new "Superman" screenplay from Bill Wisher, who co-wrote "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" with James Cameron.
Fox's announcement that Burton is in talks to direct "Apes" should come as a welcome surprise for sci-fi aficionados. The project, which was first announced back in 1993, has been associated with the likes of Oliver Stone, Cameron, Chris Columbus and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the past.
Although the trade newspaper didn't cite its sources, the Burton rumor seems to fit -- at least if you believe recent whisperings. In January, movie rumor Websites such as Ain't It Cool News (www.aint-it-cool-news.com) posted information, purportedly from people close to the project, stating that a new story treatment was recently written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Walker also wrote "Sleepy Hollow," Burton's recent gothic horror hit that grossed $96 million for Paramount.
The original "Planet of the Apes" (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, was based on a book by French writer Pierre Boulle. The flick starred Heston as Taylor, a time-traveling astronaut who crash-lands on a barren planet ruled by a society of apes, who regard humans as mere savage slaves. It also starred Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter as the sympathetic chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira. Such was the popularity of the "Apes" franchise that it spawned four sequels, a live-action TV series and even a cartoon.
Fox commissioned an "Apes" script in the mid-1990's by Sam Hamm (who penned the stories for Burton's "Batman" and "Batman Returns") that reportedly deviated markedly from the original film, with a race of intergalactic apes dispatching a virus to the Earth, and a group of human heroes venturing to the ape planet to send the bio-agent back.
Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Bicentennial Man") was to direct the project and Schwarzenegger was to play an updated version of Heston's role. Later, Cameron was rumored to be unofficially attached to the project as a producer and writer.
According to Ain't It Cool News, Walker's rumored treatment is a modified version of Hamm's screenplay. In it, a civilization of apes living in the Earth's core dispatches a killer virus to the surface, and two scientists must travel to the center of the planet and stop the apes from wiping out humanity.
The Hollywood Reporter says the new "Planet of the Apes" will get the A-list treatment, with a big budget and elaborate special effects (remember the cool ape make-up from the original?). No word yet, however, whether Burton will let frequent leading man Johnny Depp utter that classic line: "Get yer stinkin' paws off me, ya damn dirty ape!"
Meanwhile, no director is working on Warner's long-awaited "Superman" update -- alternately known in its past lives as "Superman Lives" and "Superman Reborn" -- although Burton was attached to the film circa 1997-98. Other screenwriters who have worked on the film prior to Wisher include Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and Dan Gilroy ("Freejack").
CHAINSAW REVISITED: First "Star Wars," now "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Unapix Films, which purchased the sequel rights to the grisly horror franchise about a year ago, announced this week that it will produce a "Chainsaw" prequel, simply titled "Ed Gein."
For the uninformed, Gein was the real-life serial murderer who terrorized Wisconsin in the 1950s, kidnapping women, skinning them alive and making lampshades out of their skin. He is said to be the inspiration for "Psycho" and "Silence of the Lambs," as well as the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974), which was directed by Tobe Hooper, who later made "Poltergeist."
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new film will be directed by Martin Kunert ("Campfire Tales") and written by Kunert and Eric Manes. Kunert and Manes' other credits include "Hindenburg," a movie now in development at Fox with Jan DeBont directing, and "Dare," a TV game show now in development at MTV.
For the record, this will be the fifth movie in the "Chainsaw" series, which chronicles the exploits of a sadistic family of cannibals, led by the patriarch "Grandpa" (who, in one installment, runs a successful chili con carne business --- with human flesh as his main ingredient, of course) and his son Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding freak. The most recent was "Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" a k a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" (1994) which featured Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey in pre-stardom roles.
AND YET ANOTHER REMAKE: The Hollywood recycling program continues unabated, as Variety reports that Columbia Pictures has announced a remake of the 1971 thriller "See No Evil" (a k a "The Blind Terror") for a planned 2001 release. Martin Ransohoff, who produced the original version, also will oversee the remake and screenwriter Tony Jaswinski, who recently sold a spec script to New Line, will write it. In the original movie, Mia Farrow played a blind girl who moved into her aunt and uncle's English countryside home. Everyone else in the house is silently murdered, leaving the poor Farrow to be stalked and terrorized by the assailant. Columbia officials say the new version will be "modernized." Can you say "The Haunting"?
DIGITAL PLANET: Director Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") will see his unconventional digital-video flick "Time Code 2000" premiere at an appropriately unconventional venue -- the first-ever Online Film Festival, March 22-23 in Los Angeles.
Backed by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, the fest showcases movies that are either backed by Web-based companies or include Internet-themed plotlines.
Starring Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kyle MacLachlan and Holly Hunter, "Time Code 2000" was shot on digital video and is being billed as something of a free-spirited innovation. Figgis reportedly had four roving video cameras independently shooting four separate 93-minute stories, all four of which are shown at once on the big screen. The movie was totally improvised -- there was no script -- and totally caveman-esque -- there are no special effects, no sound dubbing, no editing and not even make-up for the actors.
Screenings for the Online Film Festival are scheduled for the Directors Guild of America headquarters in Los Angeles. The event's lineup includes six feature films -- three of which are world premieres -- and 24 shorts. The short films will be viewable in streaming video format at www.onlinefilmfestival.com .