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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On this 237th birthday of our dear country America, we all band together in our patriotism. Yes, we do have quite the uniting country indeed... despite it being split up into 50 states, all of which vehemently hate the other 49 (especially Jersey).
But as brethren of the same land, we must find common ground. We must find something to appreciate each of the states from which we do not hail. The best way to do that: Movies. Hollywood.com has taken a look at every corner of our land of the free and pinpointed the big screen feature that best exemplifies each of the 50 states. Check below, and see if your home state is represented by a particular favorite of yours.
AlabamaForrest GumpSure, he ran all around the country, but that Greenbow pride stuck with him.
AlaskaOut ColdWacky, off-kilter, and a gem that nobody ever talks about. Just like Alaska.
ArizonaPsychoFrom the creepiest corner of the country comes the creepiest movie ever made.
ArkansasTrue GritRemake or original, both have that AK charm.
CaliforniaCluelessNever before has the Valley been so astonishingly well represented.
ColoradoThe Shining Beautiful and inspiring, but haunting nonetheless — we mean the film and the state.
ConnecticutMystic PizzaSoft-spoken and charming? A little bit sad, but able to laugh? That's Connecticut for you.
DelawareThere are no memorable movies set in Delaware. Sorry, Delaware. Sorry, everybody.
GeorgiaThe Legend of Bagger Vance Ah, that whimsical mystery that soars through the Georgia winds... the kind of mystery only a Will Smith Ghost could convey onscreen.
HawaiiLilo & StitchHawaii is such a fantasy land that only an animated Disney flick could appropriately capture its presence.
IdahoNapoleon DynamiteSlow moving, weird, and possibly ingenious. From the fields of Idaho comes a cult classic that nobody could stop quoting for years.
IllinoisFerris Bueller’s Day Off Danke schoen for Chicago and its favorite son, John Hughes.
IndianaBreaking AwayA sleepy state with firecracker passion gives us a coming-of-age dramedy that can be described just the same.
IowaWhat’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Sad, lonely, desperate, hopeless... No. Not hopeless. Just remember: We can go anywhere.
KansasThe Wizard of OzOh gee, as if there was any alternative?
KentuckyGoldfingerYou don't think of James Bond as a Southern boy, do you? Well, he payed a visit to the Bluegrass State in this classic chapter.
LouisianaSteel MagnoliasThat heartfelt hometown passion for which Louisiana is famous just courses through the beloved modern classic.
MaineCasper The other creepiest corner of the state gives us a slightly more charming ghost story.
MarylandThe Blair Witch Project And we thought the scariest thing in Maryland was Omar Little...
MassachusettsJaws Celebrate Boston pride all you want with The Departed, but Jaws captures everything that a Martha's Vineyardian knows to be home.
MichiganAmerican Pie Great Lakes, great friends, great stories... and hardly a worry in the world. American Pie, you've got Michigan right.
MinnesotaGrumpy Old Men I think just about everyone in Minnesota is in fact 75 years of age or older.
MississippiThe Help Granted, Mississippi has come a long way since the days of The Help, but it still has that connotation...
MissouriWaiting for GuffmanWe'll be honest. We've never been to Missouri. We don't know anyone from Missouri. We have no idea what Missouri is like. But we imagine (and hope) it's exactly like Waiting for Guffman.
MontanaA River Runs Through It That old mountain spirit, that true American flavor, that's what Montana, and this Robert Redford classic, are about.
NebraskaElection We always thought there was something suspicious lurking underneath that oh-so-perfect Nebraska... Tracy Fleck just might be the state incarnate.
NevadaFear and Loathing in Las VegasSorry, Nevada, but you're just Vegas to the rest of the world. Crazy, drug-addled Vegas.
New HampshireLolitaThings are a bit off all throughout the beautiful, jovial, captivating Granite State, and throughout Stanley Kubrick's classic comedy.
New JerseyClerks Angry, grungy, and highly polarizing. Yep. Clerks is Jersey.
New MexicoCity SlickersYes, this movie is about people from other states visiting New Mexico... but isn't that what the real New Mexico is all about, anyway?
New YorkAnnie Hall A symphony of neuroses, heartbreak, and wide-eyed fantasy, Annie Hall is everything that the unstoppable city of New York has to offer.
North CarolinaBull DurhamThis movie is set in North Carolina. So it wins.
North DakotaFargo Oh yah. Quite a sinister tone under this kooky snow-laden state and its signature film, yah.
OhioTommy BoyThe good-natured values of hard work and friendship? That's the cornerstone of Ohio livin', we tell you.
OregonThe GooniesWhen Oregon learned it was finally getting a movie, the entire state cheered: "It's our time."
PennsylvaniaRockyPennsylvania is just another nickname for Philadelphia, right?
Rhode IslandDumb and DumberYes, a good portion of the film takes place on the road (and in a place where the beer flows like wine), but Harry and Lloyd are distinctly, undeniably Rhode Island folk.
South CarolinaThe Notebook That deep, abiding love that can only exist in a small state sheltered from the rest of the world? That can only come from a man like Nicholas Sparks? That can only be appropriately sold through a stunner like Ryan Gosling? Yep.
South DakotaLittle Big ManIt's appropriate that South Dakota's pick is riddled with historical color... and some wacky adventure.
TennesseeThe Blind SideA simple story of family, pride, acceptance, and overcoming adversity. Tennessee should be proud of this Oscar winner.
TexasDazed and ConfusedOf course our Texas pick had to come from Richard Linklater, master of the Lone Star State. And which film better than his most iconic, nihilistic, dreamy high school graduation picture?
Utah127 HoursIn Utah, no one can hear you scream. =
VermontSuper TroopersCall it a mindless stoner comedy, but the Broken Lizard debut packs a lot of that wintry Northeast flavor into its wild, witty mix.
VirginiaThe PatriotAs if there was anything more Virginian. As if there is any state more American.
WashingtonThe Twilight SagaWhat's with the corners of this country being so dang creepy? At least this one has some glitter.
West VirginiaOctober SkyCoal mines and dreams of escaping the coal mines. That's what ol' West Virginia was all about in its day.
WisconsinLars and the Real Girl There's something cold, eerie, and wonderfully beautiful about small town Wisconsin. Ditto Gosling.
WyomingButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Wyoming, even though we're not entirely sure that you actually exist, you might win the pot with the best movie on the list.
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Turning "Jack and the Beanstalk" into a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic sounds like the premise of a MADtv sketch, but director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) finds a happy medium between grand action filmmaking and the dapper whimsy of an Errol Flynn adventure with Jack the Giant Slayer. The movie nods to its storybook origins: the characters are slight, the villains are goofy, and every action is painted in the biggest, boldest, most colorful stroke possible. It's fluffier than Rings, and that's not knock on the film. Jack is light on its toes, making it the perfect entry-level fantasy film for genre buffs and their kids to enjoy.
Jack suffers most of its problems in the first 10 minutes, a plodding, stylized recounting of man's history with giants. It's a tedious stretch that also introduces us to Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a farm boy whose dreams of a thrilling soldier life cloud his ability to do anything right. His kingdom's princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), suffers from the same inability to escape her life. When she finally goes on the run in one last effort to escape her suitor Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the princess takes refuge on Jack's farm. The two instantly connect, but their rainy night in is rudely interrupted by a few misplaced magic beans, which produce a towering beanstalk straight through Jack's bachelor pad. Jack watches as Isabelle and his home disappear into the clouds. The king and his army immediately spring into action to rescue the princess, and Jack's newfound connection to Isabelle drives him to join the team.
RELATED: 'Jack' Might Have Just The Right Amount of Nonsense — Trailer
Jack the Giant Slayer's lengthy setup feels frivolous in both script and execution, a series of hurdles in the way of the real fun of the movie. Jack partners with head knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the king's advisor Roderick (like Jafar!) — who hides a secret connection to the towering beasts — to climb the beanstalk and track down Isabelle. Singer knows his way around an action set piece and turns the scaling of the beanstalk, even with CG enhancements, into a dizzying vertigo experience. When the group arrives in "Gantua," the land of the giants, they immediately encounter the floating land's residents and are outnumbered (not to mention, outscaled). Singer has his cake with the design of his monstrous ensemble: they're both cartoonish (maybe a bit so in the case of Bill Nighy's General Fallon, who has a second, blabbering head) and realized with detail and familiar motion. The giants have distinct personalities, and they clash with both their human adversaries and each other. Most of Jack the Giant Slayer is from Jack's ant-like perspective, like a medieval Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
Hoult is up to the physical task of outrunning (and occasionally slaying) the giants, a gimmick that never gets too repetitive thanks to Jack's 90-minute runtime. Livening up the set pieces are McGregor and Tucci, who both chew up their fair share of scenery along the way. McGregor is sprightly as the noble knight. At one point, the actor finds himself wrapped in dough, fated with becoming a human-sized pig in a blanket. Silly, but McGregor knows it — and plays it through for laughs. Tucci has a ball as the diabolical villain, sneering and sniveling against the computer animated giants. The man knows what he can get away with in a fairy tale movie and takes full advantage. The two eventually share a duel and its the highlight of the movie.
RELATED: Nicholas Hoult Goes to War In 7 New 'Giant Slayer' Pics
Teased in the trailers, Jack and the Giant Slayer caps off with a grand battle. The movie takes one too many cues from the fantasy films of yore (moments in the score feel directly ripped from Rings), but impressively, Singer's stamp never disappears, even in the biggest scenes. A sequence where the beanstalk is cut and topples over across the open fields is expertly crafted, while the warring finale moves swiftly from small moments, like Elmont and Jack organizing troops for battle, to vistas filled with destruction. When giants attack, they go big. Singer always knows just where to have us looking — at a firing catapult, at a bellowing giant, at knights pushing against the castle gate to ward off intruders — and it's cut together for maximum thrills.
Jack the Giant Slayer is blockbuster entertainment built upon fairy tale logic. Scrutiny does it no justice, but from a giant's point of view — or atop the beanstalk, if you're a pesky human — the big picture is good fun.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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The actress is the new owner of a "rustic castle-like" estate, built in the 1930s.
She paid over $3 million (£2 million) for the new property, which features four bedrooms and two guesthouses.
Her realtor, Richard Stanley, tells In Touch magazine, "Natalie wanted a property that had character and integrity, something that was special. This house is perfect for her... It’s the trophy home of the neighbourhood."
And what a neighbourhood - the home is located close to the former palaces of Hollywood legends like Cecil B. DeMille, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin and Carole Lombard.
In this latest doomsday pic Earth's inner core has stopped rotating a situation that will eventually cause the planet's electromagnetic fields to collapse. If it isn't fixed pronto static charges will create "super storms" that will generate hundreds of lightening strikes per square mile and cause microwave radiation to ultimately cook the planet. Government and military officials conjure up a team of scientists led by geophysicist Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) to travel to the planet's core and get it spinning again. Accompanying them are geophysicist Dr. Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) atomic weapons expert Dr. Levesque (Tchéky Karyo) "terranauts" Major Childs (Hilary Swank) and Commander Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and Dr. Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo)--the renegade scientist who built the subterranean vessel. Their mission is to travel to the center of the earth to detonate a nuclear device that will hopefully jump-start the core and save the world. Like the "terranauts" grinding their way through Earth's layers to get to the planet's core The Core laboriously plods through the storyline to get to its climax--and both are equally uneventful.
Despite a really corny scene in which he demonstrates what will happen to the planet by torching some sort of fruit on a fork Eckhart (Possession) is believable as the sensible Keyes. Co-star Swank (Insomnia) meanwhile brings intensity to the role of fledgling astronaut Childs. It is Tucci (Big Trouble) however who creates the film's most interesting character the arrogant Dr. Zimsky. The diva-esque geophysicist heads to the center of the earth in style with his Louis Vuitton monogrammed canvas bag and an endless supply of cigarettes--making him politically--and refreshingly--incorrect. You'll love how he pompously records the mission's progress in a Carl Sagan-style narration. Back at mission control D.J. Qualls' computer-hacking character Rat mirrors a recent report describing the characteristics of computer virus writers: Male. Obsessed with computers. Lacking a girlfriend. Aged 14 to 34. Capable of sowing chaos worldwide. Qualls (The New Guy) couldn't be more suited for this digital graffiti artist role.
Director Jon Amiel helps define the film's main characters by weaving vignettes of their everyday lives throughout the first half of the film but so much effort is devoted to exploring their individual backgrounds that relationships among the team members are never established. The minor characters are like extras in a Star Trek episode--they're just onscreen to die. The Core also fizzles as a believable disaster movie because of its flimsy scientific reasoning even if you try to suspend your disbelief for the sake of cinematic "escapism." While I can make myself believe for example that a government-created weapon of mass destruction is to blame for the planet's imminent annihilation I cannot buy into the notion that this high-tech vessel was built by a renegade scientist in his backyard and is able to withstand the rough trip to the center of the earth. Although the film's original November release date was delayed because more time was needed to complete the special effects don't expect to be visually dazzled by the voyage. Most of what we see is what the "terranauts" see on their screen: spotty black-and-white renditions of sharp jagged rock. Scenes of the Roman Coliseum getting zapped by lightening and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge melting aren't convincing either.