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 Sundance post-mortem has begun. Several deals were concluded, keeping pretty much apace with 2009's festival, but the general consensus is that no film will have the breakout success of last year's Precious.
Many felt this year's edition was more of the same. Others say there may be a strong after-market for sales. Still, now that the fest is over, The Wrap calls the indie landscape "more fragmented and confused than ever."
Critics, including The New York Times' Manhola Dargis -- who last week noted that while the "spin was hotter and the vibe somewhat warmer...the movies were much the same" -- seem to agree that much of the fare on offer was a retread of years past.
"I thought Sundance 2010 was a good year for the quality of films presented, but I doubt it will be remembered as a particularly strong acquisitions market," Tom Ortenberg, former president of theatrical films at Lionsgate and founder of the consulting firm One Way Out Media, told TW. "Given the films that were snapped up...I'm sure there will be a brisk after-market in terms of film sales."
"In many respects, Sundance is always the same," independent film consultant Mark Urman told TW. "Movies you expect to be good, disappoint; the films you shy away from because they sound bad on paper turn out to be wonderful. Half the time you feel as of you're in the wrong theater. That said, I thought the mood this year was high. Positive, not poisonous like last year. People seemed upbeat, invigorated, inspired. If the independent arena is hard - and it still is - I think people are more prepared to do the work than they were in the past few years."
Among the ten or so deals concluded at the festival were The Weinstein Co's North American theatrical and Pan-Asian satellite buy of Blue Valentine; IFC Films’ acquisition of US rights to Michael Winterbottom's controversial thriller The Killer Inside Me; Roadside Attractions’ acquisition of North American rights to Winter's Bone -- the ultimate grand jury prize winner -- Focus' pick up of Lisa Cholodenko's crowd-pleaser The Kids Are All Right; Lionsgate's acquisition of Buried; Newmarket's pick-up of Hesher; Hannover House's deal for Joel Schumacher's Twelve; and Sony Pictures Classics’ acquisition of all US rights to the Dutch film Winter in Wartime.
Still, buyers said they'd be surprised if any replicated the critical or financial success of last year’s Precious or Paranormal Activity, Deadline.com notes.
Also according to Deadline.com, buyers preferred to pass rather than overpay while sellers and filmmakers were less concerned with MGs than they were with P&A commitments.
"There's a sense of relief and comfort that the market is still pretty healthy," Micah Green, co-head of CAA's Film Finance Group, told The Hollywood Reporter. "The pace of sales is more deliberate now. If you check back in three to four months, I think you'll find more films will have sold than in previous years. The market is more fragmented, so there's less of a herd mentality. People are responding more to the films than who else is chasing them."
Titles that remain in play include documentary grand jury prize winner Restrepo and dramatic World Cinema jury prize winner Animal Kingdom.
The story starts at a junior high dance where a nerdy kid Jeremy asks each one of the popular girls to dance. All of them in one way or another rebuff and ridicule Jeremy mercilessly. Jumping ahead 13 years it's nearing Valentine's Day and the girls still close friends are now all grown up. There's sexy Paige (Denise Richards) smart Shelley (Katherine Heigl) fun Lily (Jessica Cauffiel) sweet Kate (Marley Shelton) and ugly duckling-turned-swan Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw). Tragically the girls and the men in their lives are being bumped off one by one in rather gruesome ways by a killer in a angel mask with most of the murders taking place at Dorothy's Valentine's Day party. Is it Jeremy who's come back for revenge or someone else?
Well there certainly isn't a lack of beautiful people in this movie. And that's what a slasher film is all about. Not much is required of the acting besides looking scared and asking "Who's there?" But darn it they all look good doing it. As far as any notable standouts Denise Richard's sexy bad girl actually has the audience guessing whether or not she's the killer which is a credit to her performance. Other than that the rest of the cast just goes along for the ride in an extremely predictable script.
Really what can one say about another slasher film that is incredibly formulaic? There are no real twists or surprises. One must plod through the whole movie hoping to find a touch of originality or even creativity but is pretty much served the same tired horror schtick as in most other horror flicks. The only saving grace is the more well-known cast members especially David Boreanaz ("Angel") as Kate's boyfriend Richards ("The World Is Not Enough" "Wild Things") and Shelton (in the new release "Sugar and Spice"). And unfortunately that really isn't saying a whole lot.
Top Story: Police Call Off Search for "COPS" Producer
A search for the body of reality TV producer-director Paul Stojanovich has been called off, Variety reports. Stojanovich, who created the hit Fox show COPS, is presumed dead after he slipped and fell from a cliff in Oregon and into the Pacific Ocean on Saturday. He was posing for a picture for his fiancée, Kim Srowel, when he fell. After developing and serving as a producer of COPS and producing the ABC series American Detective, Stojanovich executive produced a wave of reality shows modeled on the COPS genre, including World's Wildest Police Videos, World's Scariest Police Chases and Ultimate Police Challenge. Stojanovich, 47, moved to Oregon about 10 years ago. He is survived by his fiancée and two sons from a previous marriage, Paulie, 20, and Chet, 18.
Gandolfini and HBO Back on Track
After dropping his lawsuit against HBO, James Gandolfini agreed Tuesday to fulfill the terms of his original contract, meaning that a fifth season of the mob drama The Sopranos will be filmed as scheduled, The New York Times reported Wednesday. HBO, which had filed a counterclaim against Gandolfini, said it would drop its lawsuit once both conditions were met. According to the Times, the agreement between HBO and Gandolfini, who won Emmy Awards in 2000 and 2001 for his role as Tony Soprano, came with no change in the salary offer.
Construction Company Wants Minnelli To Pay Up
A New York construction company is asking the Manhattan Supreme Court to order the sale of an Upper East Side apartment owned by Liza Minnelli and her husband David Gest so it can recover $138,000 the couple allegedly owes them for renovations, Reuters reports. The suit alleges that Minnelli and Gest agreed to pay the construction company $250,000 for major renovations when they signed the January 2002 contract, but were only paid $112,148, leaving a balance of nearly $138,000. On top of the balance owed, the company is seeking interest and $50,000 in legal expenses.
Paul Reubens Appeals Porn Charge
Paul Reubens is appealing a judge's refusal to throw out a misdemeanor child pornography possession charge, The Associated Press reports. Attorneys for Reubens argued Monday that a February ruling by Superior Court Judge Carol H. Rehm was flawed because a 1989 statute does not apply to material produced before the law was enacted. Reuben's attorney's also argued that the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor crime expired before the city filed the charge last November. The charge resulted from a search of Reubens' home in November 2001, when police seized the actor's collection of vintage erotica.
Dixie Chicks' "Travelin' Soldier" Takes a Hit
The Dixie Chick's No. 1 hit "Travelin' Soldier" dropped 15 percent on the country singles charts to No. 3 as more radio stations are dropping the band from their playlists, USA Today reports. The depth of anger displayed by the Chicks' country fans is one the most dramatic to date in the backlash against artists and celebrities who comment on the nation's divisive policies toward Iraq. The trio is set to begin a U.S. tour May 1 in Greenville, S.C.--expected to be one of the marquee events in country touring for the year--but it is unclear now how the tour will play out.
Presley Belts Out Tunes for Record Execs
Lisa Marie Presley quietly made her first singing appearance at an industry trade show Tuesday in Orlando, Florida to promote her soon-to-be-released first album. Presley performed three songs before 1,000 enthusiastic record label executives and music sellers at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers' annual convention. According to the AP, convention attendees surmised that Presley's Capitol label is hiding her quiet voice behind the music as she starts her career. Music Universe's Alan Josef Kaplan told the AP, "She's a little shy, but she's new. Give her six months, and she's going to get much more comfortable."
Sharon Osbourne Suffers Heat Exhaustion
Sharon Osbourne was admitted to an undisclosed Las Vegas hospital after she was overcome by heat exhaustion Friday during her husband Ozzy's concert at the Hard Rock Hotel, People.com reports. According to spokeswoman Lisa Vega, Osbourne complained of feeling faint, and because of her medical condition, was taken to the hospital. "It was nothing serious. We were there for about 20 minutes," Vega confirmed. Ozzy had finished playing by the time the ambulance arrived, and accompanied his wife to the hospital. Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer last year and has since undergone chemotherapy treatment.
Role Call: Queen Latifah's "Just Wright," Paramount Nabs Clancy's "Red Rabbit"
Disney has purchased screenwriter Michael Elliot's pitch Just Wright as a starring and producing vehicle for Queen Latifah. The pic is a modern-day Cinderella tale set in the world of pro basketball ... Paramount Pictures has acquired the rights to Tom Clancy's latest thriller, Red Rabbit. Scribe Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) will adapt the book for just under $2 million.