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 magical R-rating is both a gift and a curse to Adam Sandler's signature brand of lowbrow humor. In That's My Boy the comedian returns to the dim-witted roots that made him a star in early outings like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore (complete with high-pitched mushmouth accent) but with a ramped up "ew" factor. Unrestrained Sandler piles on as many expletives and gross-out scenarios as a two-hour movie can hold — and it works out quite well. With costar Samberg nailing the disgusted straight man role Sandler's penchant for acting like a fool is enhanced by the sick stylings of director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and only occasionally teetering into truly offensive territory. Laughs aren't guaranteed but the movie provokes (which is a big step up from Jack and Jill).
Back in the '80s Donny had a secret relationship with his teacher Ms. McGarricle that resulted in a son Han Solo (he's a middle schooler what do you expect?). The torrid affair put McGarricle in jail Donny into celebrity tabloid spotlight and Han Solo in the hands of a tween father. Thirty years later everyone's screwed up: Donny (Adam Sandler) is a drunk on the brink of jail time for tax evasion McGarricle's still in jail and Han Solo (Andy Samberg) now "Todd " is a successful number-cruncher with severe social issues. On the weekend of Todd's wedding Donny reenters his life hoping to bring revive their relationship and reunite him with his mother — that is on camera so Donny can make $50 000 from a gossip TV show and stay out of the slammer. Posing as Todd's long-lost best friend Donny stirs up trouble becoming buddies with Todd's friends and family and acting like a imbecile.
The wedding setup is overdone but always prime for comedy: plenty for a numbskull to screw up logical progression (there's a wedding at the end!) and a bachelor party scene to squeeze in the most disgusting bits and have them make sense. That's My Boy makes the most of its conventions — including what we all know and expect from a Sandler comedy — by continually one-upping itself. After a night of heavy drinking at the local strip club/omelette bar that results in do-it-yourself ear piercing and robbing a convenience store with Vanilla Ice Todd returns home to expel the night's worth of drinking all over his fiancee's wedding dress. Then he makes love to the dress. Then his fiancee (Leighton Meester) wakes up to find the dress. Then it goes even further than one would care to imagine. Grossed out yet? Amazingly lower-than-low brow material is handled with clever timing and great delivery. It's just that the foundation is bodily fluids.
That's My Boy falters when it throws in gags that serve zero purpose to the story. Strange racist humor a mentally retarded bar patron played by Nick Swardson (a Sandler mainstay) random allusions to Todd Bridges' drug habits — barrel-scraping one-offs that have nothing to do with the movie. At two hours the movie needs slimming and the fat is apparent. Thankfully the main ensemble goes to great lengths to make the hard R comedy click with Sandler and Samberg playing well off each other (although Samberg doesn't have the making of a leading man after this movie) and SNL alums like Will Forte Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer driving by to bring the funny. Even Vanilla Ice's extended cameo fits the anything-goes tone playing a version of himself that befriended Donny in his celebrity days. Now he works at an ice skating rink.
After a few lame ducks That's My Boy is a return to form for Sandler. It wavers in quality but it has energy and color. A cash-in this is not and for any Sandler fan with a stomach for hardcore bathroom humor it's a must-see.
Jackson shelled out $23 million in prior molestation case
Michael Jackson, who faces a trial on child molestation charges in September, paid more than $23 million to a boy and his family in the mid-1990s to settle similar accusations, Reuters reports. Although it is been widely publicized that Jackson paid millions in the former civil lawsuit, Court TV has reportedly obtained a copy of the legal agreement and is making it public for the first time. A spokeswoman for Jackson, Raymone Bain, told Reuters she was trying to find out if the documents shown on camera by Court TV were "the actual agreement" in that case. "That settlement had a very strict confidentiality agreement that was negotiated by parties," Bain said. "We are going to abide by that and not comment." She also added: "Whoever released this agreement, whether it is the actual agreement or not, did it deliberately and willfully with the intent to influence potential jurors in the current case, which is outrageous and an act of desperation." The papers, which were signed by Jackson and his then-attorneys, Johnnie Cochran and Howard Weitzman, in January of 1994, show that Jackson agreed to set up a $15.3 million trust fund for the boy, as well as pay him a seven-figure lump sum, Reuters reports. Jackson also agreed to pay the boy's parents $1.5 million each and pay $5 million, plus expenses, to their attorney.
Britney's knee injury causes tour cancellation
Pop princess Britney Spears was forced to cancel the rest of her North American concert Onyx Hotel tour due to a severe knee injury she suffered while shooting a video for her latest single last week, Reuters reports. Spears, 22, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left knee in New York last Wednesday, must remain off her feet for six weeks with her knee in a hard brace, followed by at least eight to 12 weeks of rehabilitation, her Jive Records label said in a statement. The tour kicked off June 22 in Hartford, Conn., and was to run through Aug. 15 in Bakersfield, Calif. Jive said, Spears "hopes to revisit those cities in the future."
J.Lo may reunite with Mottola
Actress/singer Jennifer Lopez is in talks to hire her former label boss, Tommy Mottola, as her new manager, Reuters reports. Mottola, former chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, already handles Latin pop star Marc Anthony, whom Lopez married earlier this month.
Campbell sees jail time over drunk driving
Singer Glen Campbell was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 days in jail for extreme drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident last year, court officials told Reuters. Campbell, 68, will be allowed out each day for 12 hours on work furlough under a plea deal that was formally approved during a brief hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court. He also was placed on two years probation and must perform 75 hours of community service under the sentence, which begins July 1.
Wedding bells for Morissette?
Singer Alanis Morissette has definitely moved on from the angry, jilted women of Jagged Little Pill days. According to an interview with Us Weekly, The Associated Press reports she and actor boyfriend Ryan Reynolds (National Lampoon's Van Wilder) are engaged. Morissette told the magazine in its June 28 issue that the couple started dating by e-mail two years ago. "I knew early on that he was someone I could spend the rest of my life with. I just feel like we're family and we're on this journey of evolving together. He's courageous, he'll talk about anything, he takes responsibility, he's just unbelievable." The magazine also reported Reynolds, 27, flew to Ottawa to ask Morissette's parents for permission to propose to her--which the singer didn't know about. He also helped design her 2.5 carat emerald-cut platinum ring, and got down on one knee to give it to her. "We were at home," she said. "It was very simple, pure and sweet--and shocking
Prince sues student for invasion of privacy
Prince is denying allegations he instructed his bodyguard to assault a college student who took the singer's photo at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Anthony Fitzgerald sued Prince and his bodyguard in April claiming he was assaulted at the airport Dec. 29 when he took a photo of Prince as the musician was getting off a plane. He is seeking damages of at least $50,000. The AP reports Prince filed a $50,000 counterclaim Monday in Hennepin County District Court, alleging the student invaded his privacy and violated trademark and copyright law. Fitzgerald's attorney, Kari Berman, called Prince's counterclaim baseless. "He is a public figure walking through a public airport. There's no expectation of privacy, and he knows it," he told the AP.
Rock Star winner to join INXS
Mark Burnett, the creator of such reality hits as Survivor and The Apprentice, has revealed the band at the center of his latest reality show, Rock Star: Australian rock band INXS, which lost singer Michael Hutchence to suicide in 1997. "After Michael died, we wanted to search the world for a new singer but didn't know how we could effectively do that," Tim Farriss said in a statement posted Monday on the band's official Web site (http://inxs.com/). "By having Mark and everyone at MBP (Mark Burnett Prods.) embrace the concept, we've now found a fantastic way to make that happen." The winner and INXS will record a studio album, the band's first since 1997's Elegantly Wasted and then head out on a world tour, Reuters reports.
Lorne Michaels awarded America's top comedy prize
Lorne Michaels, a Canadian-born comedy writer who created Saturday Night Live and produced Wayne's World and other movies showcasing SNL stars, will be awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the AP reports. The award will be given to Michaels at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington on Oct. 25. Michaels has won 10 Emmys as a TV writer and producer, most recently in 2002 when SNL won the Emmy for best writing in a variety/comedy series. Michaels also executive produces Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Previous winners include Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart and Lily Tomlin.
Role Call: Morgan Freeman enrolls for WWII film
Morgan Freeman is set to star in a film about the first black armored unit to enter combat during World War II. The DreamWorks project, written by Remember the Titans scribe Gregory Allen Howard, focuses on the relationship between two men--one a fearless black soldier from the streets of Detroit, the other a Yale-bred white officer--and their struggle to prove their worth to each other.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.
Top Story: Pitt and Aniston Have No Nursery Plans
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are not building a nursery in their house--yet. Pitt, who has been shooting the Trojan War epic Troy in Malta, told Access Hollywood that while the nursery rumor is a good story, it isn't happening at the moment. But the 40-year-old actor added, "That time will come. Yeah, the time will come, certainly." According to The Associated Press, Pitt said Aniston has visited him on the set in Malta and they "had a good, nice, kind of husband and wife week" when he had some time off. He also said he and Aniston just found out that Malta is the island of fertility. Pitt and Aniston began dating in spring 1998 and were married on July 29, 2000.
WGA, PGA Announce Awards Show Dates
The first months of 2004 are shaping up to be busy ones. The Writers Guild of America announced Monday that its 56th annual awards show will be held Saturday, Feb. 21--just eight days before the Academy Awards. The Producers Guild of America, meanwhile, unveiled the date for its 14th annual show: Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Century Plaza in Los Angeles. The Directors Guild of America already announced a February 7 date for its show.
Winslet and Mendes Tie the Knot
Actress Kate Winslet married American Beauty director Sam Mendes in an intimate Caribbean ceremony in late May, her publicist said on Monday. Winslet's 2-year-old daughter Mia, from her previous marriage to director Jim Threapleton, and three close friends attended the small ceremony. Winslet, 28, is best known for her performance in the 1995 drama Sense and Sensibility, which earned the actress her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and as the heroine Rose in James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic.
Studdard Ditches 205 Jerseys
You won't see American Idol winner Ruben Studdard won't be sporting any more jerseys bearing the now-famous 205 area code, a reference to his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. Studdard, who is in Birmingham to shoot the video for his new single "Flying Without Wings," told The Birmingham News Sunday that "a combination of things" factored in his decision to no longer wear the jerseys, made by 205 Flava Inc. "I will always represent the area 205, but 205 Flava is not indicative of what I am about," he said. The 24-year-old idol, however, would not elaborate further on his decision, the AP reports.
Ron Howard Pic Gets Early Release
Ron Howard's upcoming thriller The Missing starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett will be released earlier than scheduled, Reuters reports. Sony had originally planned a wide release for the pic on January 16, 2004, but decided to roll it out in theaters earlier after seeing some early footage. The Western-set drama, based on a novel by Thomas Eidson, will receive a platform release beginning Dec. 10, in New York and Los Angeles in about six theaters. By Christmas, the film will be playing in about 125 theaters, with wide national release is set for Jan. 9.
Spike Lee Defends Lawsuit
Filmmaker Spike Lee said he is suing Viacom Inc. over its planned Spike TV because programs like its Pamela Anderson Stripperella cartoon will damage his reputation. Viacom, which bought TNN in 2000, announced in April that it would change TNN's name to Spike TV on June 16 in an attempt to attract more men to an audience that is already about two-thirds male. Lee's lawyer Johnnie Cochran argued in court Monday that Viacom is changing TNN's name in a deliberate attempt to capitalize on Lee's name and prestige. "They hope to get a boost in the ratings," Cochran told State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub. "They don't have a right to misappropriate his name to do that."
Carson Daly To Get Roasted
Madonna, Britney Spears, and Nelly are set to join artists and comedians at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles on June 28 for the first MTV Bash--a comedy/concert roast of late-night TV host Carson Daly. Daly is the host and executive producer of MTV's popular daily countdown show Total Request Live. The guests, many of whom are friends of Daly, are expected to ridicule and poke fun at Daly's public image, work, and love life. Other attendees will include Jessica Simpson, Papa Roach, Carmen Electra, Andy Dick, Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel. The event will be recorded for a July 13 telecast.
Tom Green Returns to Late Night TV
In more late-night news, comedian Tom Green is jumping again into the now crowded arena of young late-night talk show hosts, the AP reports. In The New Tom Green Show, the 31-year-old comedian will wear a suit and perform a monologue, then interview celebrity guests. Green will also mix in some comedy segments in the hour-long, late-night talker, which is set to air weeknights at midnight beginning June 23 on MTV.
Role Call: Halle Berry Lends Voice for CGI Pic Robots
Twentieth Century Fox, Blue Sky Studios and director Chris Wedge, the trio behind last year's computer-animated hit Ice Age, will regroup for the CGI project Robots. The pic, set in a world composed entirely of robots, revolves around a young genius inventor who dreams of making the world a better place. Halle Berry, Ewan McGregor,