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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Andy Whitfield, the hunky actor who starred in TV's Spartacus: Blood and Sand, died in Australia on Sunday at the age of 39. Whitfield lost an 18-month battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The breakout star appeared as the gladiator hero in the first season of Spartacus, but decided to step down in January when his cancer took a turn for the worse. He was initially declared cancer-free a few months after treatment, but suffered a relapse later in the year, so his role was recast. Whitfield had previously appeared in Australian TV shows Packed to the Rathers and McLeod's Daughters.
His wife, Vashti Whitfield, issued a statement on Sunday confirming his death, saying, "On a beautiful sunny Sydney morning, surrounded by his family, in the arms of his love wife, our beautiful young warrior Andy Whitfield lost his 18-month battle with lymphoma cancer ... he passed peacefully surrounded by love. Thank you to all his fans whose love and support have helped carry him to this point. He will be remembered as the inspiring, courageous and gentle man, father and husband he was."
Chris Albrecht, President and CEO of Starz, issued his own statment about the tragic news, commenting, "We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Andy Whitfield. We were fortunate to have worked with Andy in 'Spartacus' and came to know that the man who played a champion on-screen was also a champion in his own life. Andy was an inspiration to all of us as he faced this very personal battle with courage, strength and grace. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. He will live on in the hearts of his family, friends and fans."
Click on the image below to see our Andy Whitfield gallery.
Source: MTV, Starz Press Release
The star, who plays gladiator slave Spartacus, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year (10), resulting in a delay in production on the second series of the show, which is filmed in New Zealand.
He was given the all-clear in June (10) after months of treatment - but he's since been given the devastating news the disease is back.
Whitfield is set to undergo further aggressive treatment - and as a result he won't be returning to the TV series.
In a statement to People.com, Whitfield says, "It's with a deep sense of disappointment that I must step aside from such an exceptional project as Spartacus and all the wonderful people involved. It seems that it is time for myself and my family to embark on another extraordinary journey."
Executives at TV channel Starz have sent their best wishes to Whitfield following his health setback.
President and CEO Chris Albrecht says, "Our hearts and prayers are with Andy and his family during this difficult time. Andy is not only an incredible actor whose portrayal of Spartacus made an indelible impression on Starz audiences, he is also an amazing human being whose courage, strength and grace in the face of adversity have inspired all of us."
After the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences rocked the television world earlier this week by threatening to move the Primetime Emmy Awards to cable network HBO, it has been decided the Emmys are going to stay with the four major broadcasters after all. Reuters reports the networks--ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox--will together pay $52 million over eight years for the right to take turns airing the show under a "licensing" wheel. HBO offered to pay $50 million over five years, certainly a more lucrative deal, but ultimately ATAS realized the networks could still reach more people overall than HBO. According to Reuters, HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht said in a statement, "While we are certainly disappointed that we didn't get the Emmys, I am glad that the Academy finally got some respect from the big wheels in the big wheel."
Apparently, Russell Crowe is getting feisty again. According to the Associated Press, several London newspapers are reporting the Oscar-winning actor got in a brawl in a London restaurant Wednesday with New Zealand entrepreneur Eric Watson, where, according to The Sun, onlookers saw Watson getting the upper hand on the Australian hunk. A police spokesman told the newspaper, however, that there were no charges or arrests made.
The Robert Blake saga continues. The actor, who has been incarcerated since April 18 on charges of murdering his wife, was officially denied bail by the California Supreme Court Wednesday. They upheld the decision made last month by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash to deny Blake bail based on the evidence supporting the charge against him. Blake's hearing is set for Dec. 11.
Even though they have been his flamboyant trademark for years, Elton John is finally going to throw away the roughly 4,000 pairs of glasses he claims he owns. AP reports the 55-year-old singer plans to get laser surgery to correct his vision problems in February. We'll especially miss the pair with the wipers and flashing lights.
On Thursday the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced Miss and Mr. Golden Globe for the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards. The honors go to the daughter of actor Andy Garcia, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, and A.J. Lamas, son of actor Lorenzo Lamas and grandson of the late Fernando Alvaro Lamas. Traditionally the honorees, who will assist in the Golden Globes ceremony, are the prodigy of well-known celebrities. The award show airs on NBC Jan. 19.
Variety reports the American Medical Association and the U.N.'s World Health Organization have joined forces with anti-smoking group Smoke Free Movies to ask the film industry to deglamorize smoking by, among other things, giving smoking-filled films an R rating. The MPAA is not expected to comply with the request.
HBO can't Curb their excitement. The cable station has picked up Larry David's comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm for a fourth season. The current season of the offbeat, mostly improvised docu-show, which follows writer/producer/comedian David around Tinseltown, ends Sunday.
The TV game that ran on the now-defunct ABC show Push, Nevada has been solved by Matt Nakamoto from West New York, N.J. He picked up the $1 million prize by watching the seven episodes and solving the on-air puzzle. Too bad the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck ratings disaster got the boot after only four weeks.
Live from Barcelona, Spain, Eminem, Christina Aguilera and James Taylor will perform for the worldwide broadcast of the MTV Europe Music Awards Thursday. Along with Eminem, U2, Kylie Minogue, Pink and Enrique Iglesias are all up for awards. A billion fans are expected to tune in.