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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Happy 4th of July, kidderoos! There really is nothing more American than Glee, amirite? So I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of our great nation than reading Interweb recaps of The Glee Project — are you squeezing in your computer time somewhere between your fourth hot dog and the parade? Or are you about to run out to watch the fireworks? Firework! Speaking of fireworks, there were some — of the emotional variety — on last night’s The Glee Project (how’s that for a segue?).
The theme of last night’s episode was “Adaptability.” Which, we quickly came to learn, was a clever ploy to keep the contenders on their toes. Think you know what song you’re going to sing? Wrong! Think you know the choreography? You don’t! The mentors had scheming twinkles in their eyes as they threw the kids curveball after curveball. There are no fastballs or knuckleballs in adaptability week, only curveballs. And goofballs (I’m looking at you, Michael).
First shake-up of the night had to do with the homework assignment. This time around, the contenders wouldn’t get to pick their own lines. Oh no, the horror! Like, really, Robert? You think that’s a challenge? I scoff at your challenge; really, you just made this easier on the kiddies. Now no one had to risk damage to life and limb in a fight to the death for the best. line. ever.
Wait a sec! I totally forgot to talk about the single most important part of the episode, which happened right at the very beginning (you’ll have to pardon my scatterbrainedness, I’m just so excited about all the patriotic Jell-O I’m going to devour later today). So, the thing is, Aylin and Charlie decided to be “just friends.” This is a really good call, they both agree, because this means they can channel all the energy they used to put into frivolous activities like snuggling straight into figuring out how best to kick each other’s asses. There is not a hint of sarcasm so much as floating in the general vicinity of Charlie as he says, “Friendship. Is awesome.” Yeah, right.
Okay, back to the homework assignment. The super-secret special mentor for adaptability week is… Artie! Kevin McHale saunters into the dusty choir room, sans wheelchair, and whips off his glasses Clark Kent-style for dramatic effect. Ali bursts into a bout of uncontrollable giggling. She loves him, you see, because he never cheats when he’s using his wheelchair. But Kevin has some — dramatic pause — bad news for the kidderoos. Thought you were going to sing Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”* as a group? Wrong! It’s solo time. Each contender will have to sing the song individually. The color drains from Shanna’s face, leaving her a lovely shade of ashy pale green — she doesn’t know the words.
*Fun fact: “You Oughta Know” was written in 1995 and is based on the tumultuous relationship Alanis had with Full House star Dave Coulier. That’s right, Uncle Joey. I guess Alanis doesn’t like impressions or hockey.
NEXT: Twist 1.5 revealed!Thankfully, for the viewers at home at least, the Glee Project’s team of ninja superstar editors splices all the solos together so we don’t have to listen to “You Oughta Know” 10 times. Kevin and Robert, however, do have to listen to Alanis’ anthem 10 times, which explains the ringing in their ears and sudden urge to break a few pieces of flatware before settling in on the sofa with a Snuggie and a pint of Chunky Monkey. Oh ‘90s music, how you make me feel things.
The winner of the homework assignment is Aylin. Congrats, Aylin. Woohoo, it’s your party.
And we’re onto twist number 1.5 (because I don’t think the first twist was really much of a twist at all, but rather more of a lil twistlet). Neither Kevin nor Robert will be announcing the song for the music video this week, because it’s a surprise. The contenders won’t learn which song they will be expected to sing until they’re in the recording booth with Nikki. Same goes for choreography. They’ll be learning their two-steps on set.
At this point, it dawns on me that adaptability week is a really good idea. Essentially, what the powers that be are doing is testing whether these kids have what it takes to be working actors. As SAG card-carrying, working actors in Hollywood, the contenders will be forced to change things up at the drop of a hat. You think Lea Michele needs more than two microseconds to learn the latest Kelly Clarkson ballad? You think Harry Shum Jr. ever needs to rehearse his choreography before the cameras are rolling? You naïve sons of guns.
Turns out, the song for this week’s music video is Jessie J’s “Price Tag,” and the premise of the video is a class war between the mean rich kids and the broke kids who just want to have fun. The recording session and video shoot are a whirlwind of cha-ching cha-chings, so here’s a list of highlights.
1. Ali decides to do a bit of spoken word in the recording booth. Nikki is not impressed.
2. Nikki is impressed with Michael, who decides to let loose and be a total goofball. Also impressive are Shanna, who didn’t “know this song from Adam,” Aylin, and Lily.
3. Abraham is freaked out about learning choreography on set. He’s just not a fast-learner, you know? He starts to rock back and forth a bit, cradling his knees to his chest.
4. Robert reminds the viewers at home that this is adaptability week. Woah, did you know the theme was adaptability? I had no idea!
5. Charlie gets into his bitchy rich person character by declaring into a fake cell phone while wearing a palm tree-printed Hawaiian shirt, “I don’t care how many ocelots you have.”
6. Mario clears things up a bit by telling us that his vibe is “girls and money.” Are you a pimp now, Mario?
7. Erik dubs Mario the problem child, stating he has never had such a difficult time with anyone on set. In doing so, Erik accidentally reveals that he has the same disorder Guy Pearce has in Memento, because how could be forget Charlie from last week?
8. Blake is an awkward dancer.
And there you have it.
NEXT: On to the reveal of the bottom three!The judges announce that Aylin had the standout performance of the week, and that Shanna, Michael, and Lily are also safe. That leaves Mario, Ali, Abraham, Charlie, Blake, and Nellie to learn their fate. In the final twist of the night, Robert announces that all six of them will have to sing for Ryan Murphy, paired up in duets. Sheeeeeit. Here’s what happens.
- Blake and Nellie are asked to sing “Waiting for a Girl/Boy Like You” by Foreigner. They’re up first. Blake and Nellie take to the stage and the lights dim; I can already tell we’re in for a treat here, folks. Blake and Nellie (Blellie?) have put together a heart-wrenching soap opera of a rendition for the judges, one filled with emotional singing into each other’s faces and a forehead kiss that’ll make your heart squee. Upon finishing the song, Ryan Murphy proclaims, “That wasn’t a Last Chance performance, that was an opera.” These two are clearly safe, and scurry off stage holding hands.
- Ali and Abraham are next, singing Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night.” This song, I think, is a trainwreck. They start off by finishing each other’s sentences, and then things go from bad to worse as their voices ricochet off one another during their harmonies. And, Abraham, would you mind looking at Ali while you’re singing? I know you dyed your hair last week and you’re super masculine now, so would at least pretend that you like her? But oh, wait, apparently I know nothing about music and don’t even have ears, now that I come to think of it, because Ryan Murphy thought their performance was charming. Ali is like a “funny little Dolly Parton,” he proclaims, which I guess is a compliment.
- Mario and Charlie are last, singing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” by Elton John and George Michael. Our brief glimpses of their rehearsal time together is beyond cringe-worthy; these two clearly can’t stand each other. On stage things get intense. Mario nearly breaks down sobbing and I daresay I see the glimmer of a tear in Charlie’s eye, which makes perfect sense because there’s nothing like an Elton John ballad to make grown men cry. Ryan Murphy thinks it was sweet, but it’s clear to everyone that one of these two cry babies is going home this week.
Robert walks into the choir room following the Last Chance performances with his head hung so low that I think he’s about to pull one of the contestants aside to tell them their grandmother died. But no, he just wants to say, “The list is up.” Robert pulls out a paisley handkerchief to wipe his eyes as he sulks out of the room.
Going home this week is Mario. Charlie and Abraham are happy because they know that neither one of them were very good this week. I’m happy because Mario’s the worst. Can’t say that I’ll miss ya, bud! Mario makes his exit as proud as ever, stating (over swells of violins) that he hopes people watching this show will find him inspiring. In a rare and fleeting moment of strength and humility, Mario declares, “Blind is the last thing on my list.”
I can’t wait for more shenanigans next week, but for now it’s time for a red, white, and blue rocket-shaped Popsicle. Viva America!
[Image Credit: Oxygen]More:
Glee Project Recap: ‘I Love a Hot Mess’
Glee Project Recap: ‘Stop Going For My Wenis’
Glee Project Recap: ‘Oh God, It’s Going to be Deep’ Glee Project
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
S1E11: Welcome to Hollywood.com's very first recap of the ABC hit show, Revenge! The editorial team collectively decided that this show is far too intriguing not to cover, so we decided to rectify that in 2012. And being a big fan of the show myself, I was more than happy to offer up my recapping skills for such a worthy cause. Ten episodes have come and gone since the show premiered in September and what a wild ride it has been so far.
But first, a little refresher course: Wealth, power and status all drive and define the people in the Hamptons and Emily Thorne is out to destroy each and every one of them for the sake of revenge. Using an alias, Emily has strategically placed herself in the lives of all the people responsible for framing her father for a crime he didn't commit. He was killed while serving his prison sentence and now it's time for payback...with a vengeance. What goes around comes around, as they say.
And now that the show's winter hiatus is over, we find Emily once again seeking revenge among her fellow Hampton-ites. But things aren't going quite as smoothly as she would like. Tyler quickly manages to overstay his welcome and becomes increasingly unstable as the episode progresses, causing Daniel's intimate birthday celebration to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, Charlotte becomes a pawn in Conrad and Victoria's bitter divorce battle, and Emily watches her ultimate plan begin to unravel. Never a dull moment in the Hamptons!
"Subtly is not her strong suit when it comes to parties." - Daniel
With Daniel's birthday coming up, Emily works extra hard to make sure it's a night he never forgets - and it definitely is, thanks to Tyler. Now that Tyler knows (and has proof) that the Graysons did in fact frame David Clarke (Emily's deceased father), he sets out to blackmail Conrad, offering his silence in exchange for money. But before any deal can be made, Emily steals back Nolan's webcam (containing the evidence Tyler needs to threaten the Graysons) and places it strategically in her house, but not before stumbling upon Tyler's anti-psychotic prescription bottle...which just happens to be empty. That's right folks, Tyler isn't just acting crazy; he actually IS crazy.
"It does appear that you dispicable people are starting to rub off on me." - Tyler
But Tyler isn't the only one up to no good. Daniel pretends to make nice with Conrad, as a way to infiltrate his father's company and help Victoria bring him down once and for all. And luckily for her, Victoria's lawyer is almost as ruthless as she is when it comes to winning. This week Victoria and Conrad find themselves in the middle of their very first divorce meeting with their lawyers, bartering over who should get what. Originally, Victoria's lawyer planned to say that since she was pregnant at the time the pre-nup was drafted, she was "under duress" and therefore not “mentally competent” to agree to its terms (thus rendering the entire pre-nup null and void). A genius idea, right? Well, it would be, but the problem is Victoria wasn’t really pregnant when she got married. She only said she was in order to get Conrad to marry her and then she conveniently "miscarried." But no worries, because her lawyer is able to find a doctor willing to lie under oath and back up the lie. It looks like Conrad's bank account is going to be in for a world of hurt...cha-ching.
"Ty can be very unpredictable when he's off his meds." - Tyler's brother
Meanwhile, Tyler - who has now become completely unhinged from his lack of medication - stops by Nolan's house to stab him in the arm and demand information as to the whereabouts of the stolen webcam. But Nolan's laptop does the talking for him when Tyler notices that the live video feed is coming from inside Emily's house. Oh, and Emily just happens to choose that exact moment to reveal where she keeps her gun. So, after tying up Nolan, Tyler heads out to crash Daniel's birthday party and give the guests a little reality check.
And sure enough, Tyler arrives at the gathering with Emily's gun in hand, but before any shots could be fired, Nolan arrives with Tyler's brother, who provides just enough of a distraction for Jack to disarm him, which I have to admit was a little bit of a let down, especially given all the build up the promos seemed to portray. But afterward, it was discovered that, surprisingly, there were no bullets in the gun (even though Emily usually keeps it loaded), so even if Tyler had tried to fire a shot, no one would've been hurt anyway. And since Emily also managed to implicate Tyler in Frank’s death, it’s unlikely he'll be seeing anything but the inside of a padded cell for quite some time. Convenient right? Almost as if that was someone's plan all along...
So what did you think of the episode? Did you think the gun scene was a little anti-climatic? And, more importantly, who do you think is next on Emily's revenge list? Sound off in the comments section below!
The box office competition was put through the Ring-er this weekend.
The horror sequel The Ring Two easily opened in the top spot with a respectable $36 million, pushing last week's champ, the CGI-animated Robots, down to second place with $21.8 million. Disney's 'tweener flick Ice Princess, meanwhile, debuted this weekend at No. 4 with a not-so-regal $7 million take.
The original The Ring, based on a Japanese hit, opened small in 2002 with $15 million, but, through word-of-mouth, became a surprise success, grossing a total of $129 million domestically.
"Sequels just don't play the same way. You have to expect a good drop," Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, which released both Ring flicks, told the Associated Press. "Obviously, we would hope to get that $100 million club, but we don't do any of those projections this early in the game."
This weekend, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $108.37 million, up 4.76 percent from last weekend's $103.4 million take and up .05 percent from last year's draw of $108.31 million.
The Top Three films at the box office this time last year were: Universal's R-rated horror remake Dawn of the Dead, which opened at No. 1 with $26.7 million in 2,745 theaters, averaging $9,735 per theater; Newmarket's R-rated The Passion of the Christ, which dropped to second place in its fourth week with $19.4 million in 3,250 theaters, averaging $5,974 per theater; and Warner Bros.' PG-13 Taking Lives, which debuted in third place with $11.4 million in 2,705 theaters, averaging $4,236 per theater.
(Story continues below...)
BOX OFFICE TOP 10, ESTIMATES:
(Source: Exhibitor Relations, Inc.)
No. 1: The Ring Two (DreamWorks, PG-13)
Gross: $36 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $10,804
No. 2: Robots (20th Century Fox, PG)
Gross: $21.8 million (-39%)
Weeks opened: 2
Theaters: 3,776 (unchanged)
Per-theater average: $5,780
Cume to date: $66.8 million
No. 3: The Pacifier (Buena Vista, PG)
Gross: $12.5 million (-31%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 3,181 (+15)
Per-theater average: $3,943
Cume to date: $72.2 million
No. 4: Ice Princess (Buena Vista, G)
Gross: $7 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $2,804
No. 5: Hitch (Sony Pictures, PG-13)
Gross: $6.6 million (-25%)
Weeks opened: 6
Theaters: 2,703 (-272)
Per-theater average: $2,442
Cume to date: $159.4 million
No. 6: Be Cool (MGM, PG-13)
Gross: $5.8 million (-43%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 2,660 (-556)
Per-theater average: $2,180
Cume to date: $47.2 million
No. 7: Hostage (Miramax, R)
Gross: $5.7 million (-43%)
Weeks opened: 2
Theaters: 2,183 (+60)
Per-theater average: $2,656
Cume to date: $19.3 million
No. 8: Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros., PG-13)
Gross: $4 million (-21%)
Weeks opened: 14
Theaters: 2,210 (-165)
Per-theater average: $1,846
Cume to date: $90 million
No. 9: Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Lions Gate, PG-13)
Gross: $3.5 million (-28%)
Weeks opened: 4
Theaters: 1,279 (-326)
Per-theater average: $2,737
Cume to date: $47.7 million
No. 10: Constantine (Warner Bros., R)
Gross: $2.3 million(-40%)
Weeks opened: 5
Theaters: 1,670 (-500)
Per-theater average: $1,377
Cume to date: $70.3 million
Melinda and Melinda (Fox Searchlight, PG-13)
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $74,048