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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Most of the time when I’m working you can find me sitting in a cubical, eating Skittles, and writing articles about the wide world of television. But sometimes, I’m the lucky girl in the sky-high heels who gets to attend red carpet premieres and network parties that are filled with so many pretty people that it almost hurts my eyes! Many of you know that the winter Television Critics Association is currently in full swing and for a TV enthusiast like me, it’s like I’m a kid in a candy store. But of course I have to do my best and be lady like, so my inner fan-girl feelings don’t frighten away the stars. Anyways, moving on! This week’s edition of Leanne’s Spoiler List is packed with juicy details from five phenomenal shows. I chatted with the lovely Naya Rivera of Glee to get Santana’s feeling on Bram, and gathered scoop on what’s next for Toby on Pretty Little Liars. I also hit up the premiere of Justified to find out what’s next for Harlan county’s biggest badasses and chatted with the stars of Suburgatory and Deception to snag spoilers from upcoming episodes. Read on for all the TV craziness below!
Glee: Is NYC Ready for Santana?
My Dearest Glee-bees: In the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing every single cast member of Glee, except for the amazingly talented Naya Rivera. Every time I'd get close we'd run out of time. Sigh. However, on Tuesday night at the FOX semi-annual TCA all-star party, I was delighted to have the chance to finally talk with Rivera. Fun-Fact: She’s just as wonderful in person as you could imagine! And If you’re anything like me, then you desperately miss watching Santana singing on your TV screens each week. Well cheer up buttercup! Rivera told me that there is a lot coming up for our favorite fiery Latina. “She is actually doing big big things in the episode 'Diva' that we’re shooting right now.” Rivera says, “She gets to sing three songs. One of them is a Tina Turner powerhouse song, and then she has got some exciting news coming up. “ Hmm, any clue on what this “exciting news” could be Glee lovers?
Many fans are hoping that Santana will leave her cheerleading days in the past and move to The Big Apple with Rachel and Kurt to chase her dreams. So of course I made sure to ask if this brilliant idea could become a reality. The 25-year-old actress reveals, “I think it’s a very strong possibility.” All together now: Squee! And of course I couldn’t end our conversation without bringing up the newest couple to emerge in the Glee shipper-sphere: Bram — aka Brittany and Sam. Many people (this journalist included) can’t stand the idea of this new duo, so you can imagine my glee when Rivera told me how Santana feels about Brittany’s new beau. Rivera’s answer was short but sweet: “She hates it!” Any chance of a Santana/Sam smackdown? Rivera says with a coy laugh, “Maybe…” Well, my money is definitely on Santana!
2. Justified: Arlo Will Always Adapt
The FX hit Justified is finally back in our lives and if you missed Tuesday night’s season four premiere, you can catch up on all the Harlan drama right here! I had the pleasure of attending the Justified red carpet and premiere this past weekend where I chatted with the cast — and swooned over the handsomeness of Timothy Olyphant. (Hopefully he didn’t really notice when I caught a case of the fan-girl giggles...) One of my favorite characters is without a doubt Raylan’s law-avoiding father, so of course I had to talk with Raymond J. Barry about Arlo’s life behind bars this season. Barry says that just because Arlo is now in prison, it doesn't mean that he’s going to change his badass ways. “Arlo always has an ace up his sleeve," he says. "He’s a real survivor and he has very few tools except what he’s created for himself. No education, born in poverty — he learned how to survive as best he could, and if he’s in prison he’ll figure it out. That’s a whole other world, there’s a code of ethics and you learn how to do it.”
Barry also reveals that although Raylan is furious that Arlo took the fall for Boyd’s crime, their father/son relationship is not completely severed. Barry says, “They’re still talking. The thing is, Raylan doesn’t expect Arlo to change. It’s beyond that. And the environment is such that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” Barry says that Raylan and Arlo have very similar characteristics, it’s just that they chose different paths in life: “He chose the straight and narrow — he’s a cop, right? He gets paid for that and I get paid for what I do.”
3. Suburgatory: Oooh Barracuda!
You all know how I feel about Surburgatory: Basically if I could hug this show I would never ever let it go. So when I chatted on the phone with the amazing Cheryl Hines last week, I was thrilled to learn about all the Chatswin craziness that is coming up. Everyone knows that Dallas Royce and Sheila Shay are not exactly besties — in fact they usually can’t stand each other. Well fans had better start making their Team Dallas and Team Sheila shirts pretty soon, because there’s a musical battle headed to Suburgatory. Hines explains, “Well there is an episode coming up where George decides to star a garage band with the guys in the neighborhood. And you know Dallas thinks it’s very cute and George says no, it’s just a guy thing and we’re in the garage so we’re just playing with the guys.”
Of course, when is Dallas ever going to let a man tell her what to do? And then the trouble begins: “I walk in and Sheila Shay is signing “Barracuda” with the boys, and she’s really good! She basically tells me that I don’t need to be there and be the Yoko Ono of the group.” Oh snap! Hines continues, “So no we’re not making cookies together quite yet.” Looks like we still have a long way to go before we’re going to see Dallas and Sheila hanging out at the Chatswin Country Club together. At least there are going to be plenty of hilarious episodes in the meantime!
4. Deception: Not Just a “Who Done It?” Drama
Deception is the newest high-class murder mystery drama to hit NBC, and while it is very similar in tone to last year’s Revenge, it is still going to be a fun primetime soap opera to get hooked on. Especially because of the oh-so handsome Wes Brown, who dazzles in his scenes as Julian, the brother of the recently murdered deceased Vivian. I caught up with Brown at NBC’s TCA party earlier this week, and learned that he loves his character just as much as I do! “The Julian character — I mean, what’s not to love? He’s this mega-rich playboy who is a little too smart for his own good. It’s an intriguing character to play, and he’s nothing like myself in real life.” (Side-Note: Yep, that’s true. For example, Brown drives a Prius, not an Aston Martin like Julian. Hooray for the environment!)
The actor says that audiences are going to have fun trying to figure out all the mysterious of this Monday night drama. “I can’t wait for fans to see how much more there is to the series other than just the whodunnit of Vivian Bowers. To those who have only seen the pilot, there is so much more in the first season, and you’re going to be hooked.” Brown concludes, “All I can say is it’s an absolute roller coaster of a series.” If it’s anything like Revenge’s first season than you can bet I’ll be ready to watched every week at 10 pm sharp!
5. Pretty Little Liars: Terrifying Toby!
Pretty Little Liars is one of those shows that has it all: an always intriguing plot, hot boys, and wardrobe-inspiring fashion choices. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled Spencer’s shoes or Aria’s necklaces…) Now that the drama of Rosewood is back for the second half of season three, I sweet-talked my way into snagging some details from Executive Producer Oliver Goldstick. Fans were shocked Tuesday night, with a terrifying Toby fully embracing his black hoodie in the opening of the episode. That dark look in his eyes as he chased a skateboarding Lucas down the street was beyond intense, but Goldstick reminded me that we’ve seen that look once before. “I want you to look back. I wrote the third episode in the series and Toby was coming down that hallway when he returned to Rosewood, and that’s the same look on his face.”
Goldstick says fans need to think back to when we first met Toby, and why the four friends were so scared of him. “He was somebody who had a lot going on that he wasn’t revealing, and there’s a lot of mystery to this character," he says. "His relationship with Jenna, we’ve never met his parents — we don’t really know what goes on inside that house, and so we’ve always kept him as sort of an enigmatic character for a reason. I think now is the time to pay it off." Many fans like me are hoping that Toby is only pretending to be a member of the A Team in order to protect the liars and his lady love Spencer. However, when I suggested this speculation to Goldstick, the EP was quick to shoot it down. “Well that’s a fine theory, but I think you’re going to find in the next couple episodes that he may have been on this A side the whole time — and may have been infiltrating the pretty little liars. That’s what is more shocking and more devastating for our girls and especially Spencer. We explore that more in this season with this infiltration. It wasn’t the A Team, it was them.“ Nooo! Say it ain’t so, Toby!What do you think Santana’s “exciting news” will be on Glee? Looking forward to a new season of Justified? How do you think Spencer will feel when she finds the truth about Toby? Tell me everything in the comments below!
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.