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
Beyonce has praised a fan who posted a viral video of herself dancing to the singer's track Get Me Bodied before her double mastectomy surgery. Deborah Cohan shared the clip of herself and her whole medical team at San Francisco's Mt. Zion Hospital laughing as she prepared to undergo the procedure to have both her breasts removed this week (begs04Nov13).
Before the surgery, Cohan wrote on her website, "I will be dancing in my little hospital gown and bouffant cap in the Mt. Zion operating room with the surgical and anesthesia teams...
"I have visions of a healing video montage. Nothing brings me greater joy than catalyzing others to dance, move, be in their bodies..."
The video has since went viral and caught the attention of the pop superstar, who wrote on Facebook.com on Thursday (07Nov13), "Deborah, you are awesome!"
Reggae star Eyob Mekonnen has died after suffering a stroke last week (ends16Aug13). The Ethiopian singer, 37, passed away in a Kenya hospital on Sunday (18Aug13).
A post on Mekonnen's Facebook.com fan page reads: "He has made such a mark on the Ethiopian music scene, bringing a unique and poetic voice with thoughtful lyrics and a beautiful reggae vibe."
The singer founded reggae group Zion Band but found worldwide acclaim as a solo artist following the release of his debut album Kal in 2010.
A funeral is being planned in Ethiopia for Wednesday (21Aug13).
The Bad Boys II beauty began dating Wade in 2009 and the Miami Heat champion admits his eyes "sparkle" whenever he sees Union bonding with his sons Zaire, 10, and Zion, five, because she is always willing to offer her help and guidance to them whenever they need her.
In an interview with TV titan Oprah Winfrey, Wade says, "She makes my eyes sparkle. The biggest time she makes my eyes sparkle is when Zaire comes home and homework is a little hard that day, so he's stressing, and she goes to the table with him and she sits down until he gets it. And at that time my heart is smiling a little bigger that day because I know her love is deeper than just me.
"We're a family, and we're growing as a family every day. And I think that's the great thing about it. We have so much more room to improve as a family and it's awesome."
Wade was previously married to his high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn Funches.
The former American Idol star was set to begin shooting the movie, titled Mahalia!, this year (11), but the start date has been postponed to January (12) following the news Barrino is expecting her second child.
It was alleged that Barrino had kept her baby news secret from producers until recently - but she insists that wasn't the case and blames financial problems for holding up the movie.
In a chat with U.S. TV presenter Wendy Williams, she says, "There were no contracts signed, and there was no set date and time (when I agreed to the role). I began to gain the weight (to portray Jackson), I began to study her. And then they called us back in January and said the investors had backed out. So they were waiting on investors.
"I wanted to make the family proud, and most of all, I wanted to make Mahalia Jackson proud - and my fans and everyone who's been following me."
Barrino, who has not yet named the father of her child, is due to give birth on 29 December (11). She is already a mother to nine-year-old daughter Zion.
The star, who was one of Israel’s most famous television personalities, had been in jail for several months while on trial for allegedly ordering an assault on two TV executives he blamed for keeping him off the air.
Topaz, who was also accused of demanding an attack on an actor's agent, was arrested in May (09).
He initially denied his involvement in the attacks, but police said he later confessed to ordering the assaults and faced charges including assault and battery, conspiracy to commit a crime, extortion and obstruction of justice.
The once-beloved star had already attempted suicide once, while in jail, by injecting himself with an overdose of insulin.
His lawyer, Zion Amir, blames Topaz's death on prison authorities, who failed to protect him: "All the signs pointed to the fact that he was likely to harm himself. Why did they not guard him?.
Topaz is due to be buried on Friday (21Aug09) in Tel Aviv.
Sadly The Matrix sequel suffers from too much anticipation too much talk and too much action--an obtuse shitstorm apparently resulting from writer/directors the Wachowski brothers' theory that if they throw enough at you something's gotta stick. While the first movie's wow-inducing special effects and groundbreaking action scenes supported the story's mythology and ruminations about consciousness and free will Reloaded beats you over the head with philosophical mumbo-jumbo and pointless battles that will convince you The Matrix series is really meant for 15-year-old boys into video games. In a nutshell the ruling artificial intelligence (the nebulous vague "Machines") has learned humans are running amok in a place called Zion so 250 000 Sentinels are on their way to take care of biz once and for all. Renegade Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) insisting that "The One" will save the world ventures in and out of the Matrix with Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to fight the Machines while the less courageous rest of humanity stays underground to prepare for battle the old-fashioned way. Meantime Neo wants to find out what's behind his strange premonitory dreams--that we get to see over and over and over--of Trinity meeting her demise.
Forget the "real world" melancholy of The Matrix the shock and awe of its special effects its lines of cryptic cyber-wisdom that made little sense but were entertainingly apropos. The new and returning faces of Reloaded are barely more than haute-couture wearing Zen-spouting caricatures stuck in bad CGI sets with just about as little idea of what they're doing there as the audience has. Their lines alternate between theological psychobabble: "If you know what I know then I know you know"; Neo's statements of the obvious: "I wish I knew what I was supposed to do"; and Morpheus bellowing pompous speeches like Demosthenes on Quaaludes: "Izznn't thaaat worth dyyying fooorr!" Despite playing all 200-plus Agent Smiths Hugo Weaving has little to do or say other than smirk evilly although when he's on-screen the movie regains a little of its predecessor's life. Neo and Trinity are either busy kicking ass or making out which is great because it keeps them from reciting any more trite and silly dialogue. Reeves wisely sticks to his strong silent Neo and Moss proves herself yet again to be a terrific action heroine who doesn't need to say a lot to make her point--its a shame the script sold them short. Lambert Wilson is amusing as campily evil Frenchie Merovingian and the late Gloria Foster is a lovely breath of fresh air in her all-too-brief appearance as the Oracle--her scene with Neo is one of the film's most--er few--engaging.
You can practically see the perforation in the film at those scenes that should've been left on the editing floor. To wit: The first 40 minutes offer up development of new characters you couldn't care less about boring interplay between those returning and an introduction to Zion (hardly a fantastically realized human oasis but rather an endless well of crisscrossing walkways that lead nowhere unless it's to some underground Versace factory that pumps out everyone's stylie leather jackets and sunglasses). Things really get bizarre when Morpheus announces to the populace that um humans have only 72 hours to kill the Machines or be killed which somehow compels his audience to break into a heaving groping stomping techno-hippie orgy (1 000 years in the future and we still have drum circles?!) as Trinity and Neo are somewhere else getting it on in perfect sync with this impromptu inexplicable Afro-Asian cave rave. The film does offer up some seamlessly slick albeit ultimately pointless and not that new special effects: Neo fights off multitudes of Agent Smiths although he could've just jetted away like Superman (it's 90 percent CGI 8 percent real and after 10 minutes 2 percent interesting); and a freeway chase has breath-stealing visuals that unfortunately lose some impact after 15 minutes. It's the speechifying that'll kill you though--by the time you get a clue to Neo's purpose on Earth in a mind-numbing diatribe of Baudrillardian hokum you'll want to get out of the theater faster than you can say Attack of the Clones.
When Revolutions opens Neo (Keanu Reeves) is in an unfamiliar train station a "nowhere" between Zion and the Matrix. It looks like we're in for a brand-new head trip--a pretty cool one--and the first act of Revolutions is every bit as good as The Matrix perhaps because it makes so many allusions to that film: We revisit the Oracle's kitchen (albeit with a new Oracle in Mary Alice) where she's baking cookies for a little girl chain smoking and handing out prophesy. She and Neo lay out the plot for the trilogy's conclusion as concisely as two people speaking in riddles can manage: The Architect (whom we don't see until the end of the movie) is trying to "balance the equation" created by Neo (who is a programmatic anomaly). As a result Agent Smith's (Hugo Weaving) power and number are growing exponentially both within the Matrix and--if you recall the conclusion of Reloaded--inside Zion. To save the last human city the Oracle will have to make some sacrifices and Neo will have to "return to the source"--the Machine City where it all began.
The trouble comes for Revolutions when Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) pull Neo from the Matrix and return with him to Niobe's hovercraft. From there the movie largely abandons the four main characters as Trinity and Neo leave in one ship for Machine City while Morpheus and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) leave in another for Zion where the last stand against the machines is beginning. This leaves us with exactly zero characters we care anything about during the ensuing way-too-long siege of Zion which results in about zero emotional investment for a good three-fifths of the movie. There's more action than acting in these interminable battle scenes and many of the new minor Zionites seem custom-created for heroic death scenes. The dorky Transformer-like APUs (Armored Personal Units) don't help and watching more swarming sentinels than you can shake a machine gun at gets old after awhile.
It may be metaphysically necessary for writers/directors/producers Andy and Larry Wachowski that Zion be less cool than the Matrix. Grim reality is rarely as entertaining as fantasy and that's probably the point. Like in a world defined by Thomas Hobbes the events in Zion are nasty and brutish but they are not regrettably short. By the time we finally make it back into the Matrix for the final duel between Agent Smith and Neo--the showdown that could bring peace to the planet and end the revolution forever--we've lost the thread. Why are we here again? Oh right. Love. Yes love. Neo so loved the world and all that…and because "everything that has a beginning has an end." The question is how does one end a trilogy when the whole thing's been based around the idea that nothing is what it seems? Audiences likely expect the kind of conclusion that lets you draw your own conclusions based on your experience of all that's gone before. Unfortunately that's not what Revolutions delivers. Instead what begins well ends so predictably that it's hard to believe it came from the minds that created the Matrix franchise. Maybe that's the Wachowskis' idea of a twist.
The roommates of CBS' Big Brother 2 and NBC's Friends will be fighting for television ratings the evening of Sept. 20.
The Big Brother 2 $500,000 winner will be revealed that night, as chosen by contestants previously voted off the show, Reuters reports. The series has been gaining numbers in rating as the fights within the roommates increased in recent weeks. Thursday's Big Brother 2, which featured Kent's dismissal, attracted a season-high of 9.7 million viewers.
Big Brother 2's finale will serve as a lead-in to the second season of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, followed by The Agency series debut.
NBC has finalized plans to air an NBC White House special the first Wednesday of the season, which will air Sept. 19 before the season premiere of The West Wing. The reality game show Lost, which would air on that time slot, has been moved to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18.
Dixie Chick Martie Seidel is engaged to Irish College professor Gareth MaGuire. The couple met at the wedding of fellow Dixie Chick lead singer Natalie Maines. But Kathy Allmand, spokesperson for the Dixie Chicks could not confirm the engagement to The Associated Press on Monday.
French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo is spending his days at Saint Joseph's hospital in Paris recovering from a stroke he suffered last week. He is no longer in intensive care. The hospital said his health is improving and that treatment and re-education are continuing, Reuters reports.
Inspector Morse star John Thaw, 59, is responding well to cancer treatment and wants to return to work, his wife, Sheila Hancock, told AP. The British actor announced in June that he had cancer in the esophagus and would undergo treatment.
Former Allman Brothers member Dickey Betts has been charged with domestic battery after he reportedly punched his wife Donna in the face while she was driving, police told AP. The musician was arrested Saturday and was released from jail Sunday on a $2,000 bail, the Sarasota Herald-Tribute reports. Betts was convicted of domestic battery in January and has had a number of arrests and attended various rehabilitation centers in southwest Florida in recent years.
The Web site www.only-movies.com carried a poll of more than 17,000 film fans that voted for their "best baddie" in cinema history, Reuters reports. Among the big winners: Anthony Hopkins' in Silence of the Lambs Oscar-winning role of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter; Star Wars's Darth Vader; and Psycho's Norman Bates. Other classic baddies included Christopher Lee's 1958 Dracula and Kevin Spacey for his roles in Usual Suspects and Seven.
The Irish rockers of U2 will bring their "Elevation" summer tour back to the United States for 25 new dates, London's Times newspaper reports. The tour is expected to bring in $33 million on top of the estimated $142 million the tour has already generated worldwide. If it happens, U2 would rank as the third top-grossing tour of all time, following 1994's Rolling Stones ($121.2 million) and Pink Floyd ($103.5 million). The European tour wraps on Sept. 1 at Dublin's Slane castle.
Bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938, will receive a third grave marker 63 years to the day after he died, Reuters reports. Experts believe that they have found the real burial site for Johnson, who has grave markers at two other locations. Claude Johnson, who recently was declared the bluesman's legitimate son, historian Steve Cheseborough, and record collector Gayle Dean will unveil the headstone Thursday at the Little Zion Baptist Church, located just outside Greenwood, Miss. Experts think that this is where Johnson is buried because the graveyard used by the plantation owner on whose land Johnson died.
Steven Spielberg's Band of Brothers has been dropped from London's BBC1's primetime fall schedule after TV execs feared the World War II series wasn't mainstream enough. According to Reuters, local war veterans claimed that the story line gave the impression that Americans won the war by themselves. The series has been bumped to sister channel BBC2, which gets audiences half the size of those for BBC1.