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 trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
Mad Men looked set to dominate the night, going in with 19 top nominations, and it continued its winning streak for the best drama title for the fourth year in a row.
But the stars of the period drama didn't fair so well - Jon Hamm was a four-time loser for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series - Kyle Chandler claimed that prize for his role in Friday Night Lights, while Julianna Margulies beat the likes of Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Kathy Bates (Harry's Law) to take home the female equivalent for her turn in The Good Wife.
Meanwhile, Modern Family started the Emmys as they planned to go on - TV husband and wife Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen kicked off the celebrations by walking away with the acting honours for Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Comedy Series.
The hit programme went on to earn accolades for writing and directing before being crowned best comedy at the end of the event.
It was a good night for the Brits too - Kate Winslet was named Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for Mildred Pierce, while Downton Abbey's Dame Maggie Smith claimed the supporting actress in a miniseries or movie title.
Justin Timberlake (Saturday Night Live) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Glee) were already winners before the red carpet at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre was even rolled out - they were honoured at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last weekend (10Sep11) in the Outstanding Guest Performance in a Comedy Series category.
Awards host Jane Lynch opened the show with a song-and-dance sequence featuring Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy and the cast of Mad Men, while Andy Samberg's comedy rap trio The Lonely Island, featuring crooner Michael Bolton and R&B singer Akon, and rapper/actor LL Cool J, were among the musical acts providing the entertainment in between awards at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre.
The main list of winners at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards is as follows:
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series: Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series: Melissa McCarthy - Mike & Molly
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series: Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series: Julianna Marguiles - The Good Wife
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie: Barry Pepper - The Kennedys
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie: Kate Winslet - Mildred Pierce
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series: Ty Burrell - Modern Family
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series: Julie Bowen - Modern Family
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series: Peter Dinklage - Game Of Thrones
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series: Margo Martindale - Justified
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie: Guy Pearce - Mildred Pierce
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie: Maggie Smith - Downton Abbey
Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series: Justin Timberlake - Saturday Night Live (Host)
Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series: Gwyneth Paltrow - Glee
Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series: Paul McCrane - Harry's Law
Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series: Loretta Devine - Grey's Anatomy
Outstanding Comedy Series: Modern Family
Outstanding Drama Series: Mad Men
Outstanding Miniseries Or Movie: Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)
Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Series: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Outstanding Animated Programme: Futurama
Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Special: The Kennedy Center Honors
Outstanding Reality Programme: Deadliest Catch
Outstanding Reality-Competition Programme: The Amazing Race
Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series: Steven Levitan and Jeffrey Richman - Modern Family (Episode: Caught In The Act)
Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series: Jason Katims - Friday Night Lights (Episode: Always)
Outstanding Writing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Dramatic Special: Julian Fellowes - Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)
Outstanding Writing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Series: Steve Bodow, Tim Carvell, Rory Albanese, Kevin Bleyer, Rich Blomquist, Wyatt Cenac, Hallie Haglund, J.R. Havlan, Elliot Kalan, Josh Lieb, Sam Means, Jo Miller, John Oliver, Daniel Radosh, Jason Ross, Jon Stewart - The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Outstanding Writing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Special: David Boone, Matt Roberts, and Mo Rocca - 64th Annual Tony Awards
Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series: Michael Alan Spiller - Modern Family
Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series: Martin Scorsese - Boardwalk Empire
Outstanding Directing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Dramatic Special: Brian Percival - Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)
Outstanding Directing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Series: Donny Roy King - Saturday Night Live (Host: Justin Timberlake)
Outstanding Directing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Special: Lonny Price - Sondheim! The Birthday Concert.