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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It was perplexing enough when the world decided to give one biopic to software engineer/documented oddball John McAfee. But perplexing enough just isn't perplexing enough: The Hollywood Reporter has linked Warner Bros. to a second developing film about the antivirus mogul and his various legal troubles throughout South America. News broke on Monday that the studio could be funding a cinematic project based on a Wired article ("John McAfee's Last Stand") about McAfee's alleged criminal activity. All this on top of December's announcement that McAfee would play the focal character in Running in the Background: The True Story of John McAfee, a film by Impact Future Media, to whom McAfee himself sold his life rights.
That's right, two John McAfee movies. The major studio exploit and the independent project with questionable objectivity, as it always goes. See, the dueling biopics phenomenon is not one unique to the case of McAfee. Recent years have seen competing forces vie for the presentation of a shared subject's life story — a couple of instances are even in the works presently. Is there always a clear winner to the showdown, or are we left torn between contrasting portraits of great figures? Take a gander at what we think:
The Studio Movie: John McAfee's Last Stand adaptation (no official title)
Source Material: Wired article "John McAfee's Last Stand"
Creative Forces: Unknown
The Independent Film: Running in the Background: The True Story of John McAfee
Source Material: McAfee's life rights
Creative Forces: Unknown
The Champion: Yet to be determined, although we can bet that the latter, which McAfee himself is at least marginally involved on a production level, might be a little skewed away from objectivity... which could, actually, be quite interesting.
The Studio Movie: Hitchcock
Source Material: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello
Creative Forces: Director Sacha Gervasi; stars Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson
The HBO Film: The Girl
Source Material: Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto
Creative Forces: Director Julian Jarrold; stars Toby Jones and Sienna Miller
The Champion: The Girl is a far superior, more intricate and compelling film to the bland Hollywood output
The Studio Movie: Steve Jobs
Source Material: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (authorized biography)
Creative Forces: Writer Aaron Sorkin
The Independent Film: jOBS
Source Material: Unknown
Creative Forces: Director Joshua Michael Stern; stars Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad
The Champion: As much as we like Gad in costume as the Woz, we have to bet on the Sorkin power for this one.
The Sundance Premiere: Lovelace
Source Material: Unknown
Creative Forces: Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman; stars Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, and Sharon Stone
The Muddling-in-Oblivion Machination: Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story
Source Material: Unknown
Creative Forces: Director/writer Matthew Wilder; stars Malin Akerman, Matt Dillon, and Harold Perrineau
The Champion: Another TBD, but Sundance provides us with some very favorable thoughts about the former.
And one from the archives...
The Studio Movie: Capote
Source Material: Capote by Gerald Clarke
Creative Forces: Director Bennett Miller; stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Clifton Collins, Jr.
The Independent(ish) Film: Infamous
Source Material: Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Careerby George Plimpton
Creative Forces: Director/writer Douglas McGrath; Toby Jones (again!), Sandra Bullock, and Daniel Craig
The Champion: The Oscars were right on this one: Miller and Hoffman's rendition of the story was a dazzling feat — while Infamous, too, is a film worth your while, it doesn't quite live up to the spectacle that a character like Truman Capote deserves
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Actor Brad Renfro reported to the set of "Bully" in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, one day after the teen was released from jail for allegedly trying to steal a boat. The "Apt Pupil" and "Client" star, 18, and a friend, Harold Bond, 24, were arrested Monday by police after the pair were apprehended for attempting to commandeer a 45-foot luxury vessel valued at $175,000. According to police reports, the duo forgot to untie the dock lines, bouncing the boat back and damaging the stern.
Renfro was released after posting $10,000 bond Tuesday. He is charged with grand theft in the incident.
The actor is in Florida to work on the Larry Clark film for Tri-Mark/Lions Gate about a group of teenagers who grow tired of being picked on by the school bully. When the bully’s best friend (Renfro) and his girlfriend (Rachel "Mrs. Macaulay Culkin" Miner) decide that life would be better without the bully, eight of the teens lure him to a swamp and kill him.
Renfro has had trouble with the law before. In 1998, he was arrested after police found heroine and cocaine in his front pocket.
Police have charged actor Brad Renfro, the youngster from "The Client" and "Apt Pupil," with grand theft after he and a friend were accused of taking a 45-foot yacht from its berth in Florida on Monday morning. According to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police reports, the dynamic duo forgot to untie the boat’s dock lines. When the pair tried to leave the dock, the $175,000 vessel was pulled back, damaging the stern and stranding the boys.
Renfro and his pal Harold Bond, 24, were held by nearby boaters until police and the boat’s manager arrived.
Fort Lauderdale Police Department spokesman Mike Reed said the actor was evasive when he was questioned by detectives Monday. Renfro was released from jail that night on $10,000 bail.
The teen was in town shooting his next film, "Bully." Cameras had been scheduled to role Tuesday on the Tri-Mark film.
Renfro has been in trouble with the law before. In 1998, he was arrested after police found cocaine and marijuana in his pocket. He agreed to random drug testing as part of a plea bargain.