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 2012 Producer's Guild of America Awards are approaching, celebrating both Theatrical Motion Pictures and Long-Form Television with a new batch of nominees that the PGA has just released. Many of the films are no surprise—crossovers with the upcoming Golden Globes nominees abound. For theatrical motion picture include The Artist, The Descendants and Midnight in Paris; nominees for animated theatrical motion picture include Rango and The Adventures of Tintin.
The television nominees also offer some unsurprising names, including Mildred Pierce, Downton Abbey, Parks and Recreation, Boardwalk Empire,Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Colbert Report.
Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
Producer: Thomas Langmann
Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend
Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Producers: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green
Producers: Graham King, Martin Scorsese
THE IDES OF MARCH
Producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
Producers: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
The Producers Guild of America Producer of the Year Award in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Producers: Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
Producer: Denise Ream
KUNG FU PANDA 2
Producer: Melissa Cobb
PUSS IN BOOTS
Producers: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou
Producers: John B. Carls, Gore Verbinski
The Producers Guild of America Producer of the Year Award in Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Producers: Michael Rapaport, Edward Parks (*additional producers eligibility pending arbitration completion)
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Producer: Philip Gefter
Producer: Simon Chinn
Producer: James Gay-Rees
Producers: Cameron Crowe, Michelle Panek
The David L. Wolper Producer of the Year Award in Long-Form Television (Movies of the Week and Miniseries)
CINEMA VERITE (HBO)
Producers: Zanne Devine, Karyn McCarthy
DOWNTON ABBEY (Masterpiece) (PBS)
Producers: Julian Fellowes, Nigel Marchant, Gareth Neame
THE KENNEDYS (ReelzChannel)
Producers: Jon Cassar, Jonathan Koch, Stephen Kronish, Steve Michaels, Michael Prupas, Jamie Paul Rock, Joel Surnow
MILDRED PIERCE (HBO)
Producers: Todd Haynes, Pamela Koffler, Ilene S. Landress, Christine Vachon
TOO BIG TO FAIL (HBO)
Producers: Carol Fenelon, Jeffrey Levine, Paula Weinstein
The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:
30 ROCK (NBC)
Producers: Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Marci Klein, Jerry Kupfer, Lorne Michaels, David Miner, Jeff Richmond, John Riggi, Don Scardino
THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS)
Producers: Chuck Lorre, Steve Molaro, Faye Oshima, Bill Prady
Producers: Ian Brennan, Dante Di Loreto, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy, Kenneth Silverstein
MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
Producers: Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Jeffrey Richman, Dan O’Shannon, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker
PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC)
Producers: Greg Daniels, Dan Goor, Howard Klein, Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett, Michael Schur
The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
Producers: Eugene Kelly, Howard Korder, Stephen Levinson, Martin Scorsese, Rudd Simmons, Tim Van Patten, Terence Winter
Producers: Sara Colleton, John Goldwyn, Chip Johannessen, Robert Lloyd Lewis
GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
Producers: David Benioff, Frank Doelger, Mark Huffam, Carolyn Strauss, D.B. Weiss
THE GOOD WIFE (CBS)
Producers: Brooke Kennedy, Michelle King, Robert King, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, David W. Zucker
MAD MEN (AMC)
Producers: Jonathan Abrahams, Scott Hornbacher, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Blake McCormick, Dwayne Shattuck, Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television
THE COLBERT REPORT (Comedy Central)
Producers: Meredith Bennett, Stephen T. Colbert, Richard Dahm, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell, Jon Stewart (*additional producers eligibility pending arbitration completion)
THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW (Syndicated)
Producers: Mary Connelly, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Geiger Schrift, Ed Glavin, Andy Lassner, Kevin A. Leman II, Jonathan Norman, Derek Westervelt
REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER (HBO)
Producers: Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Marc Gurvitz, Dean Johnsen, Bill Maher, Billy Martin
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC)
Producers: Ken Aymong, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney
THE 64TH ANNUAL TONY AWARDS (CBS)
Producers: Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television
THE AMAZING RACE (CBS)
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo
AMERICAN IDOL (FOX)
Producers: Charles Boyd, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller, Patrick Lynn, Nigel Lythgoe, Megan Michaels, Ken Warwick
DANCING WITH THE STARS (ABC)
Producers: Ashley Edens Shaffer, Conrad Green, Joe Sungkur, Rob Wade
PROJECT RUNWAY (Lifetime)
Producers: Jane Cha Cutler, Desiree Gruber, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Jonathan Murray, Sara Rea, Colleen Sands
TOP CHEF (Bravo)
Producers: Daniel Cutforth, Casey Kriley, Jane Lipsitz, Dan Murphy, Nan Strait
The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:
30 FOR 30 (ESPN)
Producers: John Dahl, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons
AMERICAN MASTERS (PBS)
Producers: Susan Lacy, Julie Sacks
ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS (Travel Channel)
Producers: Christopher Collins, Julie Lei, Lydia Tenaglia, Tom Vitale
DEADLIEST CATCH (Discovery Channel)
Producers: Thom Beers, Jeff Conroy, John Gray, Sheila McCormack, Ethan Prochnik, Bill Pruitt, Matt Renner
UNDERCOVER BOSS (CBS)
Producers: Chris Carlson, Susan Hoenig, Eli Holzman, Sandi Johnson, Stephen Lambert, Allison Schermerhorn
ANDERSON COOPER 360º (CNN)
BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA (BBC)
NBC NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS (NBC)
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW (MSNBC)
60 MINUTES (CBS)
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL (ESPN)
REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL (HBO)
SPORTS CENTER (ESPN)
30 FOR 30 (ESPN)
2010 FIFA WORLD CUP (ABC / ESPN / ESPN2)
U.S. OPEN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP (CBS / ESPN2 / Tennis Channel)
DORA THE EXPLORER (Nickelodeon)
PHINEAS AND FERB (Disney Channel)
SESAME STREET (PBS)
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (Nickelodeon)
ASK A NINJA (blip.tv)
THE GUILD (WatchTheGuild.com)
PARKS AND RECREATION PRESENTS: "APRIL AND ANDY'S ROAD TRIP" (NBC.com)
30 ROCK PRESENTS JACK DONAGHY, EXECUTIVE SUPERHERO (NBC.com)
WEB THERAPY (LStudio.com)
*These programs were not vetted for producer eligibility this year but winners in these categories will be announced at the official ceremony on January 21st.
Source: Producer's Guild
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Danny Bonaduce and Emmanuel Lewis proved that their 15 minutes of fame is far from over.
The David Spade comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, which boasts cameos from Bonaduce and Lewis as well as Barry Williams, Dustin Diamond, Leif Garrett and Corey Feldman, took in a not-so-stellar $7 million* this weekend--just enough to edge past the lackluster competition to the top of the box office.
Last week's box office topper, Jeepers Creepers 2, lost more than half its opening draw and placed second this week with a humbling $6.7 million, while Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl anchored itself in third place with a swaggering $5.5 million.
The family remake Freaky Friday followed close behind the swashbuckling tale with a far-out $5.1 million, while the '70s-inspired cop actioner S.W.A.T. rounded out the Top Five with an arresting $4.6 million.
The supernatural thriller The Order, whose biggest omen was not screening for the press, debuted in sixth place with a sinful $4.3 million.
This dismal weekend, the Top 12 films grossed an ESTIMATED $50.8 million, down a whopping 37 percent from last weekend, when they grossed $81.6 million. The Top 12 movies were also down 14 percent from this time last year when they took in $59.1 million.
On a brighter note, the comedy American Wedding, which dropped out of the Top Ten this week, became the 20th film released in 2003 to cross the $100 million mark with its $2.1 million take.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount Picture's PG-13 rated comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star debuted at the top of the box office this weekend with $7 million at 2,026 theaters. Its $3,455 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.
In the film, Dickie Roberts, a child star grown up into a 35-year-old has-been, decides to rent a family for a month to experience the childhood he never had--and land the part of a lifetime.
Directed by Sam Weisman, it stars David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Alyssa Milano, Doris Roberts, Craig Bierko and Mary McCormack.
MGM's R rated Jeepers Creepers 2, last week's box office topper, came in second with an ESTIMATED $6.7 million (-56%) in its second week in 3,124 theaters (unchanged; $2,150 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $27.4 million.
Directed by Victor Salva, it stars Ray Wise, Jonathan Breck, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Garikayi Mutambirwa and Lena Caldwell.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated success story Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl climbed a notch to third in its ninth week with an ESTIMATED $5.5 million (-31%) at 2,203 theaters (-24 theaters; $2,497 per theater). Its cume is approximately $282 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Buena Vista's PG rated family remake Freaky Friday slipped two spots to take the No. 4 position in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $5.1 million (-45%) in 2,973 theaters (-94 theaters; $1,715 per theater). Its cume is $97.2 million.
Directed by Mark Waters, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Chad Michael Murray and Mark Harmon.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated S.W.A.T. dropped one place to No. 4 in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-45%) in 2,600 theaters (-181 theaters; $1,769 per theater). Its cume is approximately $108.8 million.
Directed by Clark Johnson, it stars Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Twentieth Century Fox's R rated supernatural thriller The Order debuted in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $4.3 million in 1,975 theaters with a $2,182 per theater average.
In the movie, a renegade priest investigates an unexplained murder in a secret Order that has existed within the Church for centuries and discovers there is a fate worse than death.
Directed by Brian Helgeland, it stars Heath Ledger, Benno Furmann and Shannyn Sossamon.
Buena Vista's R rated Western Open Range fell two notches to come in seventh in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-50%) in 2,268 theaters (+24 theaters; $1,764 per theater). Its cume is approximately $49.1 million.
Directed by and starring Kevin Costner, it also stars Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Diego Luna and Michael Gambon.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated equestrian drama Seabiscuit dropped two spots to finish in the No. 8 position in its seventh week with ESTIMATED $3.6 million (-44%) in 2,573 theaters (+17 theaters; $1,425 per theater). Its cume is approximately $109.6 million.
Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.
New Line Cinema's R rated horror flick Freddy vs. Jason also slipped two places to No. 9 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.1 million (-55%) in 2,505 theaters (-424 theaters; $1,267 per theater). Its cume is approximately $78.2 million.
Directed by Ronny Yu, it stars Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger.
Rounding out the Top Ten is MGM's PG-13 rated riches-to-rags tale Uptown Girls, which dropped one spot to 10th in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.4 million (-42%) in 2,031 theaters (-135; $1,206 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.5 million.
Directed by Boaz Yakin, it stars Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Donald Faison, Marley Shelton and Heather Locklear.
Last year's top three included: Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated teen thriller Swimfan, which opened with $11.3 million in 2,855 theaters ($3,966 per theater average); the indie sleeper My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which came in second in its 21st week of release with $10.3 million at 1,695 theaters ($6,119 per theater); and Warner Bros.' R rated thriller City by the Sea, which debuted in third place with $8.9 million in 2,575 theaters ($3,470 per theater average).