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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Are you in the mood for spectacular singing, dazzling theatrics, and one or two ferocious catfights? (I’m referring to the judges on that last one, of course) Then you’re going to love catching up on Wednesday night’s all-new live performance episode of The X Factor, which centered around the remaining Top 12 contestants — for real this time. (That is, unless Simon decides to bring back any more previously eliminated acts in the future.) But for now, it’s an even dozen!
However, last night was about way more than just singing — it was about getting in touch with your inner diva. That’s right, folks, this week’s theme was called Divas, and it’s just like it sounds. Each act belted out hits from some of the world’s biggest diva artists of all time. (Can you imagine how upset Jason Brock must be right now? This would’ve been his week!) Needless to say, these were some big shoes for them to fill.
So who came out on top and who failed to wow the judges with their superstar sass? Find out how it all went down below!
Jennell Garcia (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato): Jennell kicked off the night by belting out Tina Turner’s classic hit, “Proud Mary.” Her vocals may not be quite up to par with Tina’s, but her entertainment factor was off the charts. Girl was all over that stage almost to the point of making the backup dancers look lazy. L.A. announced that she has returned to the competition and Britney went so far as to say that Tina would be proud (clever). Even the biggest diva of them all, Simon Cowell, had nothing but praise to give her and said she was officially back in the game. We’ll just have to wait and see if she’s rolling in the votes (see Britney, I can do it too!).
Tate Stevens (Over 25 — Team L.A. Reid): Next up was Tate who sang a beautiful rendition of Shania Twain’s “From This Moment.” It obviously doesn’t rank very high as far as big diva songs go (especially with that adorable country twang of his), but it was sweet and very romantic. Couple that with the fact that he basically sang it directly to his wife and he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand...and the judges weren’t too far behind. Britney was overwhelmed by how heartfelt the performance was and Simon said it was even better than last week. And given the fact that he received the highest number of votes during Thursday night’s results show, that’s really saying something. Break out your checkbook, Simon, because you might be writing this guy a $5 million check in the very near future.
Diamond White (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Still fresh off her surprising save from last week, Diamond proved her worth to the competition by bravely taking on “Halo” by one of the hottest divas in Hollywood, Miss Beyonce. It’s a difficult song to tackle, and even though things started off a little shaky, by the time she got midway through the song, she completely owned it. (Though, did anyone else wish she had sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend?” No? Just me?) All this girl needs is a little more practice and she’ll be a true musical gem. Demi praised her performance and said that she gives the rest of the competition a run for their money ($5 mil to be exact). Simon announced that he’s looking at a future star. This girl definitely knows how to bounce back. Who runs the world? Diamond!
Beatrice Miller (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Beatrice tackled Cindi Lauper’s “Time After Time” hit to some mixed reviews. She did a great job of making the song her own and her vocals were definitely stronger from last week, but her performance level could still use some improvement. L.A. didn’t like the song choice, claiming it didn’t allow her to peak with her vocals. Meanwhile, Simon liked her vocals, but thought the song itself was boring overall. This, of course, led to a diva showdown between Britney and Simon, where Britney quipped: “Simon, she has more talent in her pinky than all of your acts combined.” Rawr! And the claws come out.
Lyric 145 (Groups — Team Simon Cowell): True to form, Lyric 145 did yet another mash-up, this time with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Katy Perry’s “E.T.” Simon started off explaining that the song selection was changed at midnight, giving them only a few precious hours to practice before show time. (Allegedly, this was to prove just how hard they’ve worked on their performance, but personally I think it was Simon’s attempt to get some extra pity votes.) Regardless, the change wasn’t made in vain and quickly brought the crowd to their feet. It was fun and full of energy, but still a little too chaotic for my taste. L.A. thought it was an improvement from last week’s “disaster,” but he still felt like they’ve lost their way in the competition. Cut to Simon Cowell’s Level 5 Diva Face. He does not agree.
Arin Ray (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Arin got assigned to sing “Crazy For You” by Madonna, which conveniently turned out to be quite the appropriate song for this week because — surprise! — Arin has a not-so-secret crush on Fifth Harmony singer Normani and he’s not afraid to show it (or at least sing about it). Aside from the wrong music cue at the beginning, the performance wasn’t that bad…but it wasn’t that good either — at least not to the caliber that it should be at this point in the competition. It’s now or never, my friend. This is no time to be holding back — which is something the judges had no trouble doing during their comments. L.A. said that it didn’t feel like a $5 million performance, while Demi harshly chimed in saying that he completely lacked soul (I’m assuming she meant musically, not spiritually). Then Simon remarked that asking him to take on that song was like asking a cat to eat a tiger…so that’s helpful and not at all confusing. Either way, the judges weren’t fans of the performance and given that he was 11 in the rankings last week, this could very well have been Arin’s swan song.
Paige Thomas (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato): Proving that she can be the diva of disco, Paige busted some serious moves while singing, “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. L.A. and Simon called it her best performance so far, but Simon felt that the dancers were a little too distracting, to which she responded saying, “I like my dancers, Simon.” Spoken like a true diva, don’t you think?
Fifth Harmony (Groups — Team Simon Cowell): It wouldn’t be a true diva night without a Mariah Carey song thrown into the mix, and who better to sing it than the girl group with the excessive name changes (if that isn’t diva-type behavior then I don’t know what is). But in all seriousness, “Hero” was the perfect song choice for this particular girl group. They are so great at harmonizing and really making each song their own; you can’t help but feel mesmerized by their performances. There’s no doubt in my mind, these ladies could go all the way.
Carly Rose Sonenclar (Teens — Team Britney Spears): In my opinion, there are some songs that should never be replicated simply because nobody would ever be able to do them justice. But Carly Rose managed to tear my little theory to shreds after her outstanding performance of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” The Titanic theme song is usually untouchable, but the quality of this girl’s voice could have rivaled the real Celine herself. It was incredible and left the judges completely awe-struck. Oh, and did I mention she’s only 13 years old? Thirteen My karaoke skills suddenly don’t seem so impressive.
Vino Alan (Over 25 — Team L.A. Reid): Vino performed a rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and while the guy certainly has some powerful singing chops, this particular performance had me feeling a little underwhelmed. There was just nothing memorable about it (I started mentally organizing my grocery list halfway through). Don’t get me wrong, he deserves to be in this competition, but it just wasn’t his night to shine.
Emblem3 (Groups — Team Simon Cowell): The future boy band of America sang “No One” by Alicia Keys — a surprising song choice, but one that seemed to work rather well. Granted, these guys could probably elicit just as much excitement singing the “Happy Birthday” song, but they still have some genuine vocal talent that deserves recognition. And just in case America needed another reason to love these guys, Simon revealed that they also saved kittens earlier this week. So vote for them, guys! Think of the kittens!
CeCe Frey (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato): CeCe ended the show on a very emotional note, singing Celine Dion’s “All By Myself.” It was a tall order to fill…and she couldn’t quite pull it off. There were some definite pitch problems and it was just a terrible song choice in general. But why review something yourself when you can have Simon do it for you: “The song was called ‘All By Myself.’ That would have been better all by yourself…like with no one in the room.” Sometimes, you just gotta love that man.
But like it or not, not one but two acts will be shown the door during Thursday night’s results show, rounding out our Diva Dozen to the Top 10. Based off of this round of performances, who do you think deserves to sing another day and who should be given the boot? Sound off in the comments below!
Follow Kelly on Twitter @KellyBean0415
[Photo credit: FOX]
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Hello, X Factor fans! Your beloved recapper Shaunna is otherwise engaged this evening, so you're all going to just have to deal with me (Alicia) this evening. So, if my opinions are different and the tone is completely inconsistent with what you're used to, you're just going to have to deal. I promise that I'll try to make it good for you guys though, okay? Let's get right down to business. Music business!
THE CONTESTANT CUTS
The show got started with a symphony of melodrama. The gaggle of folks we knew before had to face the music and brace for the final cut to make it to the judges' house. Everyone was sad! Everyone was nervous! Dreams were in peril! So, of course, the producers decided to spend about 59 years dissecting all the nerves. Overall, the judges seemed to be on the same page, though judge Britney Spears seemed a bit surprised from time to time when Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato didn't agree. No one is really all that surprised by L.A. Reid's crazy hissy fits though, huh?
The singing categories were broken down as such: The Fetuses (Teens), The Incorrigible Youths (Young Adults), The Olds (Over 25), and the groups.
CeCe Frey (duh)
Willie Jones (and his fly ombre jeans)
Fennel Jennel Garcia
Paige Thomas (and her Lauren Conrad tear.)
James Tanner (what the what is this Baby Bieber doing wearing his sunglasses inside?)
Carly Rose Sonenclar
...and here's where the TWIST THAT'S NOT A TWIST AT ALL happened! They're calling people back to make some GROUPS. Three originally made it as-is, and the last three groups were created by the judges. They are:
Playback (new all-boy group)
LYLAS (new all-girl group)
ONE4FIVE with Lyric
So there are our top performers! So now it's time to run over to each judge's not-actually-their-own-house-house to perform and meet their judge and mentor. First, the groups show up at Simon's Miami abode (on a boat!), and some of them even think they're at an imaginary home that people can't actually own. (Fact: they just make these houses for show and they sit empty!) Their mentor is... Marc Anthony? Random-seeming, but okay! Moving on.
For the young adults in LA, everyone is talking about how much they belong in Hollywood! LA the dream-maker, rump-shaker. You know. Demi's fake downtown LA apartment is so edgy with its exposed brick and sparse layout. She's so cool and hip and understanding of the youngs. And Nick Jonas is their mentor. [Insert screaming girls here.] The tweens are off to Britney's house and OMG LOL! Welcome to the 'bu (sorry, Malibu). Who was there to greet them? Mentor and part-time space DJ Will.i.am, y'all! What... a letdown. (Yeah, I said it.)
Now onto the olds heading to L.A.'s house in the Hollywood Hills. And this one is sure to be hilarious because L.A. is P-I-S-S-E-D that he has the non-young, non-sexy, non-easily-marketable group (because the music industry sucks the blood of its young. People over 25 should basically just go live in retirement homes rather than try to be in the music industry. Duh!). Not one to shy away from his feelings, L.A. quickly tells his group about how disappointed he has to pretend he wants one of them to win. Ugh! What a drag! To calm his nerves, L.A. Reid has brought the Biebs himself — aka Justin Bieber for you olds out there — in his corner as mentor. Phew! For a minute there we were all afraid L.A. was going to run off to a nursery school to stave off the vapors.
NEXT: The Performances! So now it's time for our fair singers to sit around looking nervous while Coldplay plays in the background and voiceovers speak to nerves and dreams. The two categories performing tonight include the young adults and the groups. The best part is everyone can either hear and/or see the other performers, so they're all sizing each other up and stressing each other out. Drama is a wonderfully hilarious thing, is it not?
Jennel: "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry: Prior to her performance, Demi told her not to over-perform. She was alright, though! Nick liked her, but Demi tis afraid her advice "dimmed" Jennel's light.
Willie Jones: "Nobody Knows" by Babyface: An yes, the song he bombed at bootcamp. It's much better this time. Yay Willie! Nick and Demi both think he's a star, but he has to figure out if he's R&B or country. Why can't he be both? Sing some R&B with some twang and I'm on board, y'all. It's original, and I think Willie is just that.
Jillian Jensen: "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles: Jillian and Demi have a connection that we all saw before, but she still feels like she needs to prove herself. Her rendition of "Gravity" was emotional and lovely at points, but hokey and try-too-hard at others. Nick thinks she sexy (cue fainting, jealous teen girls everywhere), but Demi thinks Jillian over-did it and that her performance didn't feel genuine.
Nick Youngerman: "Tick Tock" by Ke$ha: Lord forgive me, but I find this kid smarmy and just generally sort of annoying. He is like a mosquito in the ear. Somehow, Nick enjoyed it, though? Demi couldn't tell if she loved it or was annoyed by it. (The right answer is "annoyed" girl, c'mon.)
Paige Thomas: "Turn Up the Music" by Chris Brown: Paige is wearing what can only be described as a blue bow diaper and is really amping up her Rihanna schtick. Her slowed-down rendition of "Turn Up the Music" is dramatically different, but reeked of insecurity. Demi explains to Nick that at first people were blown away by her, but now she's insecure and people don't like it. Nick encourages Demi to try and get that old Paige back.
CeCe Frey: "Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO: Her version of this song is downtempo and kind of weird? Maybe even awkward? (Forgive me, I'm one of the olds and so I barely understand these LMFAO characters.) But Nick and Demi both seem to like it, especially since CeCe really took Demi's advice to tone down the confidence to heart. But is it enough? CeCe's not sure and she's just tired of holding it all in YOU GUYS. Life is very hard for CeCe.
Next up are the groups. Simon and Marc are just chilling by the pool, watching all the very tanned people of Miami zip around on their jetskis. That's all you're legally allowed to do in Miami. At least that's what I've heard. From time to time, though, Marc and Simon take a break and watch the groups perform! It all seems very relaxed and lovely... until you have to actually listen to the groups, and you realize there's basically two good ones total. Let's just say that the top bananas were pretty obvious.
Playback: "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates: Marc is not amused of the tiny boys who showed up and butchered such a quality song. "I just found myself looking for planes," Marc quipped after to explain his pure and utter boredom. Did I mention they rapped at one point, too? Yep. They rapped a verse of "Rich Girl" because young people. (Damn it, these f**king KIDZ! I AM OLD, WHATEVER.) Simon disagrees though, and Marc is all "IS THAT RIGHT?" in a very hilariously confused manner. I am on Team Marc on this one, y'all.
Emblem 3: "Every Little Thing She Does" by The Police: Nice harmonies from the world's most Californian boy band. Also, was there a memo I missed that required every single f**king song to have a rap in the middle? WHY WHY WHY, AMERICA? Why can't a song just be a song? Am I 900 years too old to be recapping this? This is a fun song, it doesn't need a rap! Mine ears! Poor Sting is going to have to tantric sex himself into a coma to recover from this. Simon flat out told the group that they "lost their way." The shirtless dude-wonder-brah messed up. Woops. Marc likes them, though? Confusion abounds.
Sister C: "Leavin'" by Shelby Lynne: Britney had previously said that she thinks they're annoying and, sorry, but I totally agree. They're like Minnie Mouse's traveling sister country act. The guys like them, though. Because blonde. Their voices are fine in that "they sound like every other middle of the road country girl" sort of way. Am I being too harsh? Woops. Simon worries if anyone would vote for them (No, probably not.)
Lyric and ONE4FIVE: "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus: This pairing was a masterstroke on Simon's part. The performance is fun! It's breezy and interesting, but not without talent. I worry about Lyric ruining her eyesight wearing that eyepatch all the time. I hope she visits her optometrist regularly. Marc and Simon think she's a star. They are probably right.
Dope Crisis: "Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj: This is just weird. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. It was just a thing that happened for a few minutes. "Can you imagine if that's all they had?" Marc quipped after Simon commented that he thought the group gave their all.
LYLAS: "Impossible" by Shontelle: Now, world's dumbest name ever, right? Lucky for these ladies, we can let it slide, since they were definitely the best singing group of all of them. Marc and Simon have a flicker of excitement in them that they didn't have for any of the other groups at all. It's crazy that Simon could just tell these girls would be great together. It should be really interesting to see how they evolve.
So that's your Wednesday night of The X Factor! What did you think of the performances? Agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments!
[Photo Credit: FOX]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.