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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
After the epic showdown of two weeks ago — in which friend was pitted against friend, mentor against mentee, sugar against vinegar — the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department is once again united in a common mission. In a plot line that harkens back to Parks and Rec's earlier (dare I say, fresher?) seasons, Leslie is once again on a mission to build a park. A green, lush, beautiful park located on the location that was formerly known as The Pit. Personally, I'm loving the return of The Pit this season. In fact, I would love a webisode that is essentially a live feed of the Lot Formerly Known as the Pit, featuring music by Mouse Rat. But I digress…
You're Like a Southern Belle when Rhett Butler Comes Around.
Before the opening credits, we find Leslie Knope as the guest on a local NPR-wannabe radio station (where can I get a ticket to the spoken word opera about pear-shaped women?) pleading for the citizens of Pawnee to submit résumés and designs for her new park. Fast-forward one credit sequence and a few days and we find Leslie and Ben sifted through said proposals. Unfortunately, most of them are from prison inmates and crazy people.
But ho! There is one brilliant ray of hope beaming forth from the pile of sludge! Mr. Wreston St. James, architect, has an impressive portfolio and shiny new plan for the Pit Park. There is only one catch… he's from Eagleton! Ugh, vomit, gross, cooties Eagleton. The only thing that Leslie Knope hates more than sadness, death, and the library. But thanks to Ben's coaxing and the overall lack of other options, Leslie and Ben head out to meet this Mr. St. James in person and see what he is all about.
It's love at first sight between Ben and Wreston St. James, who not only designed the biggest park I've ever seen outside of Disney World's Animal Kingdom (complete with a balloon artist extraordinaire) but also seems to be the nicest person on the face of the planet. But while Ben is enamored and wants to hire St. James immediately, Leslie is having a hard time overcoming her loathing of Eagleton as like, a place on the planet that exists. St. James really does seem to good to be true — I wouldn't trust him any farther than I could throw him. But with no other viable options, Leslie is against a hard place and a vast expanse of nothing, so she decides to take a chance on Wreston. That is, after she says she's sss…. soorr… sorrrrr… sorUGH… sorry. There. She's sorry.
When Wreston sends his assistants to present his plans for the park in his stead, all of Leslie's nightmares come true. Their model of Pawnee's newest park is full of terrible, gross, nasty things — like drool buckets, cheeseburger troughs, and public showers complete with bathing instructions (the joke being that the people Pawnee are smelly and don't know how to shower) and Leslie is whatever is more angry than furious.
Determined to get an explanation, Ben heads to Eagleton for a lunch date with Wreston. Leslie, meanwhile, plans her revenge. Just as Wreston tells Ben that his lackeys worked without his permission and were fired once news of their wrongdoing reached his ears, Leslie bursts in, shaving cream cans blaring. "You want a silly tie? I'll make you a silly tie!" she screams as she attacks Wreston. Leslie, your timing is impeccable.
But, since Parks is largely rainbows and butterflies these days and never leaves a conflict without resolution, Wreston decides to forgive Leslie and move forward with his plan for the park. Which is truly awesome (the park, not the forgiveness). It even has a Lil' Sebastian fountain. Long live Lil' Sebastian — may he rest in peace.
Good Use of the Word Fiscal, Very Upscale
Gone is the swagerific, irresponsible, pipe dream-chasing Tom Haverford, and in his place is a penny-pinching, budget balancing, levelheaded businessman. "Tommy Timberlake is dead," Tom proclaims, "Long live Thomas M. Haverford: Responsible Tycoon." Tom has found a location for Rent-a-Swag and the whole gang is ready to turn it into the most beautiful storefront this side of Entertainment 720 — just as soon as they get rid of the raccoons. Unfortunately, new and improved Tom is not so much fun. He's the kind of guy who tries to order a carton of eggs from the diner, who chooses booger yellow paint because it's on sale, and whose idea of a pizza party is one small pizza without any toppings. Raise your hand if this sounds like your dad! Without his usual spunk and risk-seeking attitude, Tom might just drive the best business he's ever had into the ground.
Luckily, Ann is on hand for an intervention. "Go find your sparkle, Tom!" she says. "Don't forget who you are!" And she hands him a wad of cash, courtesy of the group, to use to spice up his new store. Newly invigorated and inspired, Tom glams up his new digs and looks just about ready for business.
Oh Hitler, You Sexy Bastard.
As City Hall's security guard, Andy is bored. He is so bored he starts to think about existence. To liven things up, he calls April down to keep him company, and the two embark on an elaborate roll-playing mission starring FBI Agent Bert Macklin and the wily Judy Hitler, daughter of Adolf. Hitler jokes abound.
Things get serious, however — as they are wont to do — when Andy and April run across a young boy who has become separated from his mother. Goofball Andy is nothing if not compassionate, so he swings the lad up onto his back for a piggyback ride and sets off to find the missing mother. Of course, the two are quickly reunited. This prompts a syrupy sweet moment in which April tells Andy that he, not Bert Macklin, is the real hero. Awww!
Best line of the night: "You have 5 seconds to get out of here or I will rip your throats out." (It's the delivery here that sells this one.)
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: NBC]
'Parks and Recreation' Recap: Every Dog Has Its Day
'Parks and Recreation' Recap: One Quilt to Rule Them All
'Parks and Recreation' Recap: It's Better Than Strawberry Jell-O Night
You Might Also Like:
Jake Harper Could Disappear on ‘Two and a Half Men.’ What Other TV Kids Went Missing?
12 Hot (And Horrifying) TV Nude Scenes
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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Seven days, seven chances to attain sweet, sweet television nirvana. In this week's Best of Seven, we give you every excuse to sit on the couch and veg out while you patiently await the Friday opening of director Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated (and already critically-praised) Inception - this summer's Twilight: Eclipse for adults and other people with brains.
7PM-9PM: Tosh.0, Comedy Central. Comedian Daniel Tosh's sarcasm-laden celebration of viral videos, YouTube celebrities, and other pop-culture ephemera has become one of the highest-rated shows in its time slot, reportedly nabbing almost 2.5 million viewers last week, surpassing both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's ratings. It's America's Funniest Home Videos for the Twitter generation, and it's not too late to jump on the bandwagon: you can catch four Tosh.0 episodes in a row Monday night, right before another 2-hour block (9PM-11PM) of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (including the hilarious two-part 'The Gang Gets Whacked' episode and 'Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender').
8PM: Ratatouille, Disney Channel. If gross-out humor (Tosh.0 and It's Always Sunny) isn't your thing, enjoy Disney/Pixar's charming 2007 computer-animated story of a rat who dreams of cooking in a Parisian restaurant. Won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
8:30PM: R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, IFC. Did you know that singer-songwriter R. Kelly wrote a heartbreaking, 22-part rock-opera in 2005 and 2007, about the perils of one-night stands and the difficulties of keeping it real? Well, he did, and it's sort of kind of brilliant in it's own bizarre way. Start watching this and I guarantee you'll find yourself weirdly mesmerized by R. Kelly's operatic tale, much of which takes place in a closet, natch.
10PM: Curb Your Enthusiasm, TV Guide Channel. In 'The Shrimp Incident,' Larry David (Seinfeld creator Larry David) suspects that HBO executive Allan Wasserman has stolen some shrimp out of his Chinese food.
6PM - Midnight: This is not an endorsement, but if you're interested, apparently the Discovery Health channel has all baby-related programming for a whole six-hour block. Seriously. Hour after hour of Big Babies, and I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, and so on. A bit of research revealed that this is not, in fact, a singular phenomenon, but a relatively frequent occurrence on Discovery Health and TLC (this Wednesday). Who on Earth is watching this much baby-based programming? Possibly the same people who are watching Say Yes to the Dress in four hour blocks.
8PM: Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central. 2 episodes chock-full of Dave Chappelle's signature combination of wit, gross-out humor, and biting social commentary back-to-back.
8PM: The Departed, FX. Director Martin Scorsese directs the hell out of this South-Boston set tale of one cop's questionable loyalties (Matt Damon) and another's blurring identity (Leonardo DiCaprio), centered around an organized crime gang led by Jack Nicholson. Inspired by the popular 2002 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs. Won four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.
6:25: Annie Hall, IFC. By far one of Woody Allen's best films, this 1977 comedy-drama stars the writer-director and Diane Keaton. The Best Picture winner follows the ups and downs of a long-term relationship between two mismatched New York neurotics.
9PM: Futurama, Comedy Central. A 3-hour Futurama comedy block!
11PM: Weird Science, VH1. The former music - now 80s nostalgia channel is airing the thoroughly odd (seriously, watch this movie while actually thinking about what is going on - notice the subtle racism and perverse sexual themes) 1985 John Hughes flick. Two high-school nerds computer-generate a hot babe to teach them how to meet girls, as well as have uncomfortable three-person showers. With Anthony Michael Hall.
6PM: Law and Order, TNT. Law and Order may be over, but it will be in syndication forever. Remember the halcyon days with a classic episode from 2004. In 'Fixed,' Fontana and Green reluctantly investigate after a motorist strikes a child-murderer and leaves him for dead, and the evidence they uncover leads McCoy to a startling discovery.
11PM: The Glades, A&E. The pilot episode of A&E's new Florida-based crime drama The Glades re-airs at 11, if you missed the original premiere. The LA Times calls it "an accomplished if occasionally vexing affair," so take that as you will.
Other: Inception comes out tonight!
6PM: Avoid watching the HBO special 'Inception: HBO First Look.' Don't watch it! You won't want any spoilers when you enjoy Inception yourself, for the first or second time, on Saturday night. There is nothing else on TV tonight. Don't even look. Just go watch this movie.
Sunday nights are the reason to buy HBO, plain and simple.
9PM: True Blood, HBO. Alcide and Sookie (Anna Paquin) turn to a packmaster for advice on wow to deal with Russell's minions; Tara considers a proposal from Ranklin; Joe Lee breaks his promise to Sam and Tommy; Jason meets a mysterious girl; an heirloom reminds Eric of his past.
10PM: Hung, HBO. Ray tries to prove to Darby and Damon that he is not an insensitive ex-jock; Tanya turns to Charlie for advice; Jessica feels the pinch of the economic downturn.
10:30PM: Entourage, HBO. Eric and Phil try to convince Drama that he has talent on the sitcom front; Ari (Jeremy Piven) resists Barbara's urgings to have Lizzie promoted; Turtle is intrigued by a business proposal from Alex; Scott Lavin continues to ingratiate himself with Vince.