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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Move over cupid; it’s time for the angel of death to play matchmaker in Life As We Know It a rom-com from director Greg Berlanti and first-time screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson which proves the old adage that there’s no better catalyst for love — and comic hijinks — than the sudden tragic demise of loved ones.
Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) could not be more different. He’s an aspiring television sports director and an unrepentant cad whose casual seat-of-your pants approach to life is best symbolized in the ratty baseball hat that perpetually adorns his dome (always worn backwards — classic movie shorthand for “slob”). She’s a successful caterer with a five-year plan and a strict intolerance for disorder of any kind. He has a penis; she a vagina. We’re talking Israel and Palestine here folks.
The mutual disdain between Holly and Messer is palpable and intense but the two are always able to put their differences aside when in the presence of their goddaughter Sophie the unbearably adorable spawn of his best friend Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and her best friend Alison (Christina Hendricks). When the youthful parents perish suddenly in a car accident (the tragedy of which is compounded by the loss of Mad Men star Hendricks on-screen for all of a few minutes and annoyingly clothed throughout that span) there’s little time to mourn before hilarity comes calling in the form of an estate lawyer who reveals that Peter and Alison mischievous rascals that they were mandated in their will that Sophie be raised by Holly and Messer in the event that the child is abruptly orphaned.
One’s heart really goes out to Duhamel’s character here: Not only does he lose his best friend but he’s saddled with both a helpless one-year-old and Katherine Heigl. What sort of mass-murdering past life is this guy being forced to atone for? Put this material in the hands of Clint Eastwood and it’s got Oscar potential. And yet not only does Messer not strangle Holly in her sleep he falls in love with her! And she for him! Their romantic bond flowers unexpectedly as they devote themselves to the task of caring for Sophie within whose many noxious emissions it seems is housed some sort of powerful aphrodisiac that renders even the most unappealing people somehow irresistible.
The effect spreads to the audience as Duhamel and Heigl conspire to win our affections establishing a keen romantic chemistry that almost makes Life As We Know It’s far-fetched (and occasionally bizarrely macabre) plot palpable. Duhamel hits that sweet spot between eye candy and everydude as well as any actor working today and his easy charm rubs off on Heigl whose trademark busybody antics aren't nearly as cloying as in the previous seven chapters of her “Men Are Pigs” rom-com decalogy. In fact she’s downright likable in this film. Maybe there's some truth to all that nonsense about babies being little miracles after all.
Maybe it’s Accepted’s whole getting-into-college experience that grabs you. Most people have gone through it at one point or another--and for those high school seniors who are about to go through it Accepted should ring true for them too. The film revolves around Bartleby “B” Gaines (Justin Long) who has been rejected again and again from the colleges he’s applied to. It’s very frustrating especially with his parents breathing down his neck. So what does the clever B do? Simple: Open his own university the esteemed South Harmon Institute of Technology (of course the acronym is not missed). Juggling the balls delicately in the air B and his other college-less friends forge ahead with maintaining a fake functioning university. But it may take more than just sleight of hand to keep the very free-forum South Harmon going which has now gained quite a name for itself in the short time its been open. A lot more. Long has been turning in hilarious performances as awkward but lovable goofballs in comedies such as Dodgeball and Galaxy Quest--and is probably most recognizable right now as the Mac guy who makes fun of the Dell guy in those Apple computer ads. But the affable actor finally gets his big shot at full-fledged goofball-hood successfully carrying Accepted on his own. As B you quickly warm up to his easygoing yet quietly sarcastic style a method he told Entertainment Weekly he developed under the tutelage of fellow Frat Packer Vince Vaughn. Of course in Accepted Long has some help too. There’s some strong supporting bits especially from comedian and The Daily Show regular Lewis Black as Uncle Ben the university’s neurotic “we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore” make-believe dean. Good stuff. Rounding out the colorful cast is cute-as-a-button Blake Lively (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) playing the girl-next-door B adores who defects to SHI...well you get the picture. You have to admit college-based comedies are usually mindless fun and Accepted is no exception. The premise alone lends itself to all kinds of mishaps and guffaws especially when B and the gang turn a deserted former mental institution into an institution of higher learning. In his directorial debut Steve Pink--best known for co-writing comedies such as High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank--understands this and hits most of the right beats. But unfortunately Accepted can’t keep up its inimitable momentum--as B fights for the school’s unique curriculum as well as its right to exist at all--becoming Revenge of the Nerds meets Animal House meets Old School meets...I could go on forever. Maybe in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker Accepted could have been taken to its own higher level instead of lapsing into standard underdog territory.
January 23, 2004 12:15pm EST
Top Story: Club Owner Claims Death Threats in Jackson Case
Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory comedy club on the Sunset Strip who introduced Michael Jackson to his 13-year-old accuser, told reporters at a news conference yesterday he has received death threats on the voicemail of his work and privately listed mobile phones this week for speaking out in the case, Reuters reports. Masada said he was speaking out in part because the teen was badly in need of a kidney transplant. "I've gotten phone calls saying if I don't shut up they have a bullet for me to shut me up," Masada said. "If something happens to me, you guys know. You are aware of it." Masada explained that when the boy was hospitalized and given only weeks to live, he fulfilled the ailing boy's wish to meet Jackson as well as comedians Adam Sandler and Chris Tucker. The boy eventually became a regular visitor at Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch and was seen holding hands with the singer in a controversial 2003 documentary. Jackson, 45, is charged with molesting the boy when he was under the age of 14 and plying him with alcohol to seduce him, charges the singer calls a "big lie."
Crocodile Hunter Not Charged
Steve Irwin will not be charged with any offense for holding his one-month-old son while feeding one of his crocodiles, The Associated Press reports. Irwin, who hosts the wildlife TV show Crocodile Hunter, carried his son into a crocodile pen on Jan. 2 and held him under one arm while feeding a croc with the other. Following the stunt, Queensland's Department of Family Services reprimanded Irwin, but the agency took no action against him. Police also declined to file charges. After interviewing Irwin Thursday, the Office of Workplace Health and Safety there was not enough evidence to suggest that he and his Australia Zoo reptile park had violated any safety regulations.
Zeta-Jones and Douglas' Big Fat Legal Bill
After spending millions to win a court fight with Hello! magazine for printing unauthorized photos of their wedding, celebrity couple Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have been ordered by a judge to cough up possible millions in legal bills, Reuters reports. Zeta-Jones and Douglas were awarded $27,000 last year in their court battle with Hello!, which printed photos of their wedding after the couple had sold exclusive rights to rival tabloid OK!. But a High Court judge in London Friday ruled that Hello! should only pay $3.6 million of the $7.2 million lawsuit costs, leaving OK! and the Douglases to pick up the rest of the tab.
Bono Swears He Won't Swear
U2 frontman Bono promises he will not swear again on live television if he wins a Golden Globe Award on Sunday. Bono caused a commotion at last year's ceremony when he exclaimed "F***ing brilliant!" when U2 won the Golden Globe for a song the band wrote for the Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. "I swear I won't swear," Bono told Reuters Thursday in an interview. "You can always cause a stir with an expletive and it's not something that I'm conscious of. If you use them in your everyday speech, sometimes they will come out. I don't mean to offend anyone." This year, Bono is nominated with Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer in the best original song category for "Time Enough for Tears," for Jim Sheridan's Irish immigrant drama In America.
NBC Admits Over-Hyping Friends
NBC promised Thursday not to rerun a Friends ad that refers to the show as the "best comedy ever." The ad apparently peeved some people--particularly Kelsey Grammer, whose comedy Frasier has won five best comedy Emmys compared to Friends one. "They were just trying to hype it and went overboard," NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks told the AP. "It ran once and it won't run again." Friends will go off the air after 10 years in May. "I don't blame them for saying that," Grammer told reporters last week. "Although, we all know it's not true."
Eminem's Ex-Wife Gets Two Years' Probation
Eminem's ex-wife, Kimberly Mathers, was sentenced Wednesday in Michigan's Macomb County Court to two years' probation, the AP reports. Mathers, 28, pleaded guilty last month to a charge of possessing 25 grams or less of cocaine and failing to give adequate space to an emergency vehicle. The charges stemmed from a June traffic stop in St. Clair Shores, Mich. Circuit Judge Edward A. Servitto said the charges would be dismissed if Mathers successfully completes probation, but added that he would send her to jail if she violated any of the terms. As conditions of her probation, Mathers may not use alcohol or non-prescription drugs, and must undergo random drug testing and substance abuse evaluation and treatment.
Role Call: Fonda Stars in Monster-in Law, Walken Could Join Wedding Crashers
Jane Fonda is ending her 14-year retirement from acting to appear in New Line's Monsters-in-Law opposite Jennifer Lopez. Fonda, who last appeared in the 1990 film Stanley and Iris, will play the difficult mother of Lopez's fiancé. The film is slated for release in 2005 ... Christopher Walken is in negotiations to star opposite Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in the romantic comedy The Wedding Crashers, also at New Line. The project, two guys have a hobby of crashing weddings in order to meet girls--until one of them unexpectedly falls in love with a bridesmaid. Walken would play the girl's father.
Based on a true court
case first tried in 1953 Evelyn recounts the story of a man on a mission. Rumpled pub-crawler Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) has a streak
of bad luck when he loses his wife to another man the day after
Christmas and then loses his three
children Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) Maurice (Hugh McDonagh) and Dermot (Niall Beagan) to the Catholic
church and Irish courts. That he's without a wife and a regular job prompts the courts to place the tots in an
orphanage which he unsucessfully tries to steal them from. This of course was not a good move. He
gets caught and the courts see this as a strike
against him. Doyle does not give up--instead he gets his life together. But it
turns out that an obscure law that has never
been tried in the courts before requires that Doyle's estranged spouse give him
custody of the kids so he enlists several lawyers (Alan Bates
Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea) to help him get
In the end the story ends happy ever
after but not without its up and downs. Doyle must
face the hardship of living without his children and
his children must suffer through living in a miserable
Although this story line is based in predictibility-land the actors
still come out on top. Brosnan's character with his native Irish accent anti-Bond dishevelment and
pitful story is charming. Each time he leaves the
screen he leaves you wanting more. It seems
as though this role was made for him. We are used to seeing
him in the coolly unrealistic role of James Bond and this is a refreshing change. He shows the
true acting skills that he really has as a father in
agony. Julianna Margulies
also surprises with her protrayal of Bernadette
Doyle's love interest. She is charming and feisty as
a bartender who enlists her solicitor brother's help to put the devastated father's family back together again.
He may be a double Oscar nominee but Bruce Beresford's directing here is mediocre. The director whose only decent film in recent years was 1999's Double Jeopardy makes a script that is already too obvious painfully so. Pacing is a little slow some of it is corny (ie: rays of sunshine representing faith) and some of it seems unnecessary (a love-triangle plot). The great acting and chemistry between Doyle and his kids especially daughter Evelyn is the best part about this movie.