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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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Well, friends, we've made it to the season finale of Nashville. It's been a long journey with ups and downs, high notes and awful notes, big hair and other hair no one cares about. Everyone went through changes this season, except for Scarlett, who is still wearing the same annoying outfit and will be pouting indefinitely, I'm sure. Last week, Rayna and Deacon finally got together for reals, Dante screwed over Juliette hard but wound up the loser in the end when her mom went and shot him, Maddie continued to play the part of Dana in Homeland, Gunnar got himself thrown in jail after pretending to be a bad boy, and Avery, well, he became the favorite. But all of that is nothing compared to the s**tshow that went down in the finale.
The Rayna and Deacon StoryWell, the sex-in-closets honeymoon phase didn't last very long for these two. After Maddie somehow finds papers that state that Teddy isn't her father, she draws the obvious conclusion that Deacon must be. She takes a taxi over to Uncle Deacon's and selfishly weeps frantically right before the CMAs about how she thinks she is his daughter. Deacon does not pick up Rayna before the show, does not pose with her out in public for the first time as a couple, and definitely does not shave. When they finally get on stage to perform, it is beyond awkward, and not just because Brad Paisley seems very confused about his lines. Finally, Deacon confronts Rayna about this mess and she can't help but sit there speechless and beautiful. He flips out, runs away, and Rayna calls Teddy. Teddy, who never seems to be working, only standing and pacing in his gigantic office wearing a silly tie and a little too much hair gel. They talk to Maddie at home about the situation and she's all like "I want to go to dad's FOREVER!" (No big loss there.)
Meanwhile, Deacon is in a bar. He's in a bar, staring at a generous glass of whiskey on the rocks until he decides to down it all in one gulp. Bye, Deacon. The rest of the night is just a wasted mess. He's awoken in the bar and told he needs to find a place to go. First stop: find Teddy and beat the crap out of him. Second stop: home, only he can't get into his house because he is too blitzed to manage to unlock the door. Then there's a whole intervention with Coleman, Gunnar, and Scarlett... and it is not pretty. Missed punches are thrown, slurred rage takes over, and Scarlett shrieks so loudly that I am almost happy this is the last episode of the season. After the madness cools down and Deacon wakes from a long, much-needed nap, he tells Coleman that he knows what he's done and is going back to an AA meeting ASAP. But he doesn't. He continues to drink, only this time, it's from the bottle, and he gets behind the wheel. He drives over to The Bluebird because... duh. But as soon as he sees Rayna, he turns around violently. She runs after him, refuses to let him drive, and gets in the car. But it is not a nice car ride. They fight and scream and hit and wail until they swerve so badly to avoid another car that they flip multiple times until there's no way that they're both not dead. But this is Nashville, so chances are only one is dead, if not none. We'll just have to wait and see.
The Teddy and Peggy StoryYep, Peggy's back. But not the Peggy we all came to loathe. She went and got herself a proper blowout and some real lady clothes. She's looking pretty good! Teddy arranges a meeting for them because he's back in money problems. You know, that whole embezzling millions of dollars thing? Well, it apparently doesn't just go away. More people are asking for money, money that he does not have, and auditors are getting suspicious. Peggy is the link that would either set him free or kill him, so he tries to get to her before anyone else. But it's too late. She's already been talking to the folks at "End Teddy's Life & Co." But surprisingly, she covered for him. Good girl, Peggy! He is so thrilled to be getting out of yet another situation scot-free, but Peggy quickly informs him of the catch: She's pregnant. BAH!
The Scarlett and Avery StoryAfter Avery showed up at the CMAs to see Scarlett perform instead of Gunnar, he became the hero, and now he's trying to milk that for all it's worth. He meets Scarlett for lunch or brunch or something and tries to play it all cool-guy. He's like, "Man, that is just the gosh darn worst thing that boy Gunnar did to you, my dear," and Scarlett's all like, "You're lying, liar." But anyway, now she sort of likes him and wants to touch his hair and his face (which is looking more and more like Johnny Depp's). She even goes to his show and he pulls her on stage and they sing a song while staring into each other's eyes. The spark might just be back between these two.
The Scarlett and Gunnar StoryGunnar decides to brush his hair right and take the black out of his wardrobe and now he's looking for Scarlett's forgiveness. He tells the producer guy that he stole the lyrics from his dead brother's notebook and is living a lie. He just can't do it anymore. He gets some dead flowers and tries to win over Scarlett's trust, but she's surprisingly stone cold. Gunnar follows her to the bar where Avery is playing and watches from afar with a cold beer as she sings into his eyes. It's killing him. After the show, while Scarlett is walking back home, Gunnar jumps out of the bushes like a psycho killer and brings her to a random rocking bench on the water. They sit there talking and petting each other's hair until he get off the bench and onto one knee. There's no speech, no convincing line, just the question: "Will you marry me?" End scene.
The Juliette StoryJuliette is a wreck. She's got no money, no mom, and no Dante. But what she does get in the finale is a tiny bit of class. Her loyal former manager, Glen, comes back to support her, but she doesn't want his help. She doesn't want anyone's help. She actually gets ready for the CMAs through all the madness and sneaks into the back door dressing room. She continues to tell everyone that she's fine, that she's not going to freak out on stage, but soon, she realizes she's a mess. It's probably when she screams that she's glad her mom is dead because now it's all over and she can go back to living her life, in so many words. She heads over to the church before going home and cries over her mom's coffin, wishing that things had been different between them. Juliette then finds out (from a letter that eerily came in the mail from her mom) that she only took the drugs and killed Dante out of protection for Juliette's career. It's all very Shakespearean, sort of. So, she doesn't get to perform at the CMAs, but she does win! Glen comes to her house to deliver the award, and just as she's about to slam the door on him, he hugs her. Like a real hug, one that she's probably never gotten. It's the most heartwarming moment of the season.
The Luke From 'The O.C.' StoryHe took his shirt off and it was real hot.
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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.
Once Upon a Time: Jorge Garcia, known to fans as bad luck-addled Lost favorite Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, will join fellow island alum Emilie de Ravin on ABC's fairy tale drama in its second season. Although details are mum, Garcia will play a character known as 'The Giant,' which suggests a possible Jack and the Beanstalk relation in the show's future. [EW]
Hart of Dixie: The Newsroom supporting player Kelen Coleman, who recently scored a gig on the TV Land pilot Brothers-in-Law, will join The CW's Rachel Bilson-led doctoral drama in a recurring role as Presley, "a pretty but tomboyish beer distributor who, while at the Rammer Jammer, catches the eye of the newly single George" (Scott Porter). [TVLine]
Nashville: Kimberly Williams-Paisley (According To Jim) is set for a multi-episode arc on ABC's new musical endeavor this fall. She'll play Peggy, a former lover of Connie Britton's character's husband Teddy (Eric Close). Will she stir up trouble, or come bearing pleasantries? We assume the former. [Deadline]
666 Park Avenue: ABC's supernatural semi-thriller will get political when Tessa Thompson joins the cast as a recurring media consultant who tempts Henry (Dave Annable) and threatens Jane (Rachael Taylor). [Deadline]
Royal Pains: Another Lawson has been discovered! Hank (Mark Feuerstein) will treat his overweight cousin Owen when Charley Koontz (Community) shows up on USA's Hamptons dramedy. Koontz is set for a two-episode arc. [Deadline]
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