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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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Country star Kellie Pickler's troubled dad has fallen foul of the law again after violating the terms of his probation. Clyde Raymond Pickler, Jr. spent much of his daughter's childhood behind bars for various crimes, including a three-year stint in prison for aggravated battery and assault relating to a 2003 stabbing.
The American Idol star recently patched up her strained relationship with her dad, insisting he's always been a "good father" despite his criminal past, but now the 48 year old is facing further legal trouble after moving from Florida to North Carolina without notifying his parole officer.
A representative for the Florida Department of Corrections tell the National Enquirer, "He's currently listed as an 'absconder' for leaving the state without notification. That means he's a fugitive."
The news comes as the singer is currently flying high off her big win on U.S. reality show Dancing With the Stars.
It's hard to believe that, with Roger Ebert's death at 70, the balcony is now closed for good. From 1975 to 2006 Ebert appeared on television as an on-air movie reviewer, in addition to his day-job duties as the film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert and co-host Gene Siskel, critic from the archrival Chicago Tribune, sparred with each other from the balcony of a movie theater and passed judgment on each week's new movies with their zero-sum, gladiatorial ratings system of "thumbs up" and "thumbs down." (Siskel & Ebert would later trademark the Thumbs. For real.) Sometimes they agreed with each other. Sometimes they were at each other's throats. But they were almost always insightful...and usually pretty funny too. It's why their show Sneak Previews became the highest-rated entertainment series in PBS history. By the time it rebranded as At the Movies in 1982 and moved into broadcast syndication, Siskel & Ebert were truly a dynamic duo.
RELATED: Remembering Roger Ebert: Film Critic, Pulitizer Winner, Internet Troll
As much as their personalities drove the show, Siskel & Ebert's true success may have been due to how they didn't let their egos overshadow the movies they were reviewing. Not to mention that, in terms of sheer word count, many of their on-air reviews rivaled or outmatched film reviews in newspapers or magazines. So as we're paying tribute to Ebert, let's remember what an amazing institution At the Movies was in its heyday. Here are 10 moments from the series that show Ebert (alongside Siskel and several other cohosts) at his very best.
1. The Takedown of Leonard, Part 6
There was nothing more satisfying than a Roger Ebert pan. That's because he cared so much about the movies. He genuinely wanted stinkers to be good films. Witness his critique of Leonard, Part 6, a movie starring Bill Cosby, for whom Ebert has obvious affection. It's because he knew Cosby was capable of so much more that he accused him of "prostituting himself" in this "cynical exercise" of a flick.
2. Ebert Feels for the Actors in Blue Velvet
Don't get me wrong. Ebert could be as wrongheaded as any critic. While Siskel recognized David Lynch's Blue Velvet for what it was as a spiritual heir to Psycho, Ebert saw only nihilistic trauma. In fact, his reaction to the film mirrors famed New York Times' film critic Bosley Crowther's horror upon first witnessing Bonnie & Clyde, a film Ebert went against mainstream critical opinion to champion, twenty years earlier. But, again, his reason for dismissing Blue Velvet is fascinating. He actually suggests that Lynch's actors, especially Isabella Rossellini, were exploited by their director in the making of the film. It's an incendiary charge, and totally unfounded, but shows the deep streak of humanism that informed his critical worldview.
RELATED: Roger Ebert’s Many Pop Culture Parodies from ‘The Critic’ to ‘Godzilla
3. Siskel & Ebert's 500th Episode Retrospective!
Despite being famous for getting paid to sit in a darkened movie theater and watch much more famous people onscreen, Siskel & Ebert developed a flair for showmanship, having a rotating roster of canine assistants during their segment "Dog of the Week," a spotlight on their pick for the worst movie of the week, sporting an incredible variety of facial hair, and even telling showbiz tall tales about why they're called "Siskel & Ebert" and not "Ebert & Siskel." (Siskel claimed they flipped a coin.) Both of them showed their stage presence when filming before a live audience for the first time in 1989 for their 500th episode.
4. Siskel & Ebert Play a Videogame
During the '80s and early '90s, they'd have an annual show called "The Video Gift Guide," focusing on movies from the previous year, along with a few classics, worth adding to your home entertainment collection. They'd cap these shows by engaging in another home entertainment pastime: playing a videogame! This clip from 1993 has them virtually boxing each other via an early ancestor of Kinect. They have to stand inside a metal hoop and it'll sense the movements of their fists and feet as they trade pixelated body blows!
RELATED: Pres. Obama, Steven Spielberg, Howard Stern Remember Roger Ebert
5. But, In all Seriousness, the Show Really Could Be Legit As Criticism: The Decalogue
Just check out this 15-minute segment from the early 2000s of Ebert reviewing Krzysztof Kieślowski's The Decalogue for its DVD release. A shorter version appeared on the At the Movies telecast, while the full 15-minute clip ended up on the DVD box set. Ebert basically gives us a shot-for-shot analysis of several scenes, going into a far greater level of detail than you really could in a print review. It's a clip like this that shows Ebert could be a kind of college film studies professor, with his TV viewing audience as his students. As if he didn't already have enough jobs, he really did teach a class or two a year at the University of Chicago before his battle with cancer.
NEXT: The Blistering Takedown That Actually Inspired a Book. And Ebert Gets Siskel to Change His Mind!
6. The Takedown of North
One thing a film professor doesn't have to do, though, is subject himself or herself to the vast majority of new movies that are released in order to make a tight deadline for a review. Ebert had to do that. And that meant having to see movies like Leonard, Part 6, or what for him was even worse, Rob Reiner's North in 1994, a film he called the worst he'd seen in the almost two decades that he'd done the show and "one of the most hateful movies in years." In fact, his TV and print reviews of North would give birth to one of Ebert's most popular books: Your Movie Sucks, a collection of his one-star reviews.
7. That Time Ebert Actually Got Siskel to Change His Mind
Only one time did it ever happen. Siskel & Ebert were reviewing John Woo's Broken Arrow in 1996. Siskel thought the movie was dumb but enjoyable, and he gave it a thumbs up. Ebert hated it, and in the span of a couple of minutes he got Siskel to change his mind and give the movie a thumbs down.
8. Ebert Says GoodFellas Is One of the Best Movies of the '90s...to Cohost Martin Scorsese
After Gene Siskel's death in early 1999, a succession of substitutes filled his seat in the balcony opposite Ebert. Some were critics from other publications. One, Richard Roeper, was a critic from Ebert's own publication, the Chicago Sun-Times. He'd eventually get the permanent gig. Other subs, though, were filmmakers. For the "Best of the '90s" listathon special that closed out 1999, Ebert tapped Martin Scorsese as his co-host, meaning that he could tell the director to his face that he thought GoodFellas was the third best film of the decade. (FYI: Hoop Dreams was No. 1.)
9. Scooby-Doo Deux
Ebert never really went in for the puns like fellow TV critic Gene Shalit — if you're not following @FakeShalit on Twitter right now, what are you doing with your life? — but when he did, they were epic. Like his imagining of what 2004's Scooby-Doo 2 would be called in France, which also conveyed precisely what he thought of the movie.
10. How Exactly Is Herbie "Fully Loaded"?
Some of Ebert's best writing didn't occur just when he was mining subtext from Kieślowski films or dissecting Alfred Hitchcock's lighting choices in Notorious. It happened when he let his geek flag fly and ask the really meaningful questions. Like when he asked during his review of Toy Story 3, "If Mr. Potato Head lost an ear, would it continue to hear, or if he lost a mouth, would it continue to eat without a body?" Or how he devoted much of his review of Zack Snyder's Watchmen to a discussion of Dr. Manhattan's ontological status. Or, best of all, this gem from 2005 when he asked, while reviewing Herbie: Fully Loaded, if sentient cars are capable of having sex.
What's your favorite moment from At the Movies?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Michael L. Abramson/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]
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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
The uber-anticipated sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen picks up shortly after the events of the blockbuster first film. With evil Megatron’s carcass buried at the bottom of the ocean Optimus Prime and his Autobot comrades working together with an elite group of human soldiers are now focused on hunting the remaining Decepticons scattered across the globe. Sam Witwicky hero of the 2007 movie is busy preparing for his first year at college while his unlikely girlfriend Mikaela Barnes stays behind to tend to her father’s auto-repair shop. Little do they know however that back on Cybertron a Decepticon elder known as “The Fallen” is hatching a scheme to invade Earth where hidden somewhere on the planet is the last known source of energon the life-blood of all Transformers. If he succeeds the devastation left in his wake will no doubt spell the end of the human race. With the fate of Earth hanging in the balance Sam and Mikaela must once again have to team up with Optimus and the Autobots to defeat this powerful new foe.
WHO’S IN IT?
All the major human players from the first Transformers film are back for the sequel including Shia LaBeouf Megan Fox Tyrese Gibson Josh Duhamel and John Turturro. Newcomers include Ramon Rodriguez who plays Sam’s conspiracy-obsessed college roommate Leo and The Office’s Rainn Wilson who enjoys a notable cameo as a pompous physics professor.
Of course the actors merely serve as background filler for the real stars of the show: those titular talking-alien robots. And director Michael Bay fills up the screen with enough mechanical eye candy to dazzle even the most skeptical gearhead. Returning characters include Optimus Prime Bumblebee Ratchet Ironhide Barricade Jazz (don’t act surprised) Starscream Frenzy and Megatron (again don’t act surprised).
Several new Autobots are introduced to the mix: Mudflap and Skids a pair of jive-talking ceaselessly annoying hatchbacks; Jolt a Chevy Volt; Sideswipe a silver Corvette; and Jetfire an elderly Decepticon turncoat who walks with a cane speaks with an English accent and transforms into an SR-71 Blackbird. Additions to Decepticon side include: The Fallen who we learn is the Decepticons’ real head honcho (consider him the Emperor Palpatine to Megatron’s Darth Vader); Soundwave a communications specialist who sinks his tentacles into a satellite and spies on us from above; Ravage a panther-like creature; Wheelie a radio-controlled truck who talks like Joe Pesci; “the Doctor ” a sort of mad scientist who speaks with a German accent (naturally); and the Constructicons a group of construction vehicles that fuse together to form a massive four-legged beast.
No director does over-the-top explosion-laded action better than Michael Bay and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen features several staggering set pieces. The CGI work on this film makes the last one look like it was designed on a Commodore 64.
Any scene in which people talk — and several of the ones in which robots talk too. Just as the action and visual effects are beefed up for the sequel the bad jokes and cringe-worthy dialogue are as well. Highlights include two dogs humping John Turturro in a thong a robot humping Megan Fox’s leg a sequence involving Sam’s stoned mom and a glimpse of a very large pair of testicles on one very large Decepticon. The latter will likely go down as the “nipples-on-the-Batsuit” moment for the Transformers franchise.
The show-stopping climax set in the Egyptian desert is one extended riotous battle royale packed with so much robot-on-robot action you’ll feel overwhelmed at times.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This big-budget spectacle begs to be seen at the multiplex — IMAX if possible. Just bring a pair of earplugs for the dialogue sequences. You might want to bring some Dramamine as well as Mr. Bay went a little overboard with his trademark circling-camera sequences this time around.
Playing second fiddle to a more famous sibling can be rough. Just ask Fred Claus (Vaughn) a regular guy who has had to grow up under the shadow of his little brother Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamatti) aka Santa. That’s a big shadow to say the least both figuratively and literally. As an adult Fred has pretty much steered clear of his family but when he finds himself in dire need of some fast cash he calls his brother. Pleased as punch to hear from him Nicholas nonetheless makes him a deal: If he comes up to the North Pole for a visit and to help out the few days before Christmas then Fred can have the money. Fred reluctantly agrees and soon he’s being whisked off in Santa’s sleigh by head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). But once Fred gets to the North Pole nothing seems to go right and soon he is the cause of much chaos--which unbeknownst to Fred causes Nicholas even more stress since his North Pole operation is one step away from being shut down by a cold-hearted efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Can Fred quit being bitter in time to save his brother’s livelihood? Of course he can. Hmmm Vince Vaughn minus the R-rated Wedding Crashers/Old School irreverence? It’s a stretch. Seeing the comic actor playing it PG is a little weird but you might enjoy how Vaughn infuses his unique energy into Fred Claus. From getting all the elves to boogie down in Santa’s workshop to going on one rant after another (on his brother: “He’s a clown a megalomaniac a fame junkie!”) to pilfering money on the street and then being chased by Salvation Army Santas it’s all good. Giamatti too seems a little out of his comfort zone as the saintly St. Nick. The actor who usually plays such endearing sad sacks has already played against type to great effect this year as the maniacal bad guy in Shoot ‘Em Up but he isn't nearly as successful in doing the flipside of that in Fred Claus. And what the hell is Kevin Spacey doing in this? As the villain of the film he fills the shoes nicely but he is almost too good at it (natch) for such a feel-good family film. Even Higgins--a character actor who is usually so hilarious in films such as The Break Up and all of Christopher Guest’s movies—has to shed the cheekiness and sugar himself up for Fred Claus. There’s also Rachel Weisz as Fred’s beleaguered girlfriend (you heard right) and Kathy Bates as the Claus boys’ mother who always sees Fred as inferior to her other son to fill out a cast of big names doing family fare. Director David Dobkin is a Vince Vaughn favorite having directed him in Wedding Crashers and Clay Pigeons but like his muse Dobkin seems a little out of place guiding this material. Granted Dobkin creates a pretty magical North Pole complete with an entire city of little dwellings a Frosty Tavern and a huge domed Santa’s Workshop. The montage of Fred delivering presents on Christmas Eve—falling down chimneys stuffing cookies in his face zooming around in the sleigh—is also well done. But overall Fred Claus is a Vaughn vehicle—even as sugary sweet and family-friendly as it is--and all Dobkin really does is turn the camera on and let the man do his stuff. Dan Fogelman's script is also so very bland full of any number of holes and only picks up once Vaughn starts to improvise. Bottom line: If you’re looking to take the kids to a sweet Christmas movie and are a Vince Vaughn fan then Fred Claus is for you.
Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) has it made. His screenwriting career is on the rise his first movie's just been made and he's got a cute girl. Life is good--until the House Un-American Activities Committee mistakenly fingers him as a Communist and he quickly falls from the A-list to the blacklist. Getting dumped by both his studio and his girl is nothing a little drinking can't remedy but after drowning his sorrows he nearly drowns himself when he decides to drive drunk and his car veers into the river knocking him unconscious. When Peter comes to he can't remember who he is or where he came from so he's taken in by the kindly people of Lawson a burg stuck in time and still mourning the loss of many of its sons in World War II. They mistake him for Luke Trimble one of their long-lost boys who went MIA in World War II and are overjoyed at his return. Luke's father Harry (Martin Landau) whose zest for life had dwindled so much that he let his beloved movie house The Majestic fall to ruin but with "Luke's" return he plans to reopen it. Celebrations abound. Peter-as-Luke even returns to his relationship with fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Peter may have forgotten who he was but the Feds haven't and they're on his tail.
When Carrey's given the right material like he was with The Truman Show he can exhibit moments of greatness. The Majestic doesn't give Carrey the leeway to show his quirky sensibilities demanding that he play it straight throughout the movie (there are a few--too few--glances at humor that Carrey doesn't play up). To bring off the kind of schmaltz this movie oozes Carrey had to bring something of an edge to his character. Instead Peter is neither likable nor unlikable coming off as a bland confused schmo until the climactic end which after two hours of his weak personality is wholly unbelievable. Landau is unexciting as a caricature of the sad sentimental old man without hope--you want to sympathize but there's something faintly chilly about him. Holden's liberated-woman lawyer might have played better in a contemporary movie; she looks and acts too much like a modern-day actress trying to portray a woman of the '50s.
Was this some kind of vanity project dreamed up by a director too taken with his own greatness and past success? Was Frank Darabont envisioning an It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation? (Psst…it's likely the majority of the modern moviegoing public doesn't know who Frank Capra is and could care less especially when the movie is as slow and as completely unbelievable as this one.) Apparently Darabont's in love with his own direction because hardly a moment goes by without some lingering reaction shot. Darabont took an intriguing story about amnesia and mistaken identity and slathered it with sap. Old-fashioned period stories can be lots of fun but it's imperative they be able to keep a present-day audience's interest by including a bit of modern wit and pace. Unfortunately this sticks to the straight-and-narrow. Nobody's going to buy the two-dimensional main characters the shiny happy townspeople or especially the schlocky my-country-'tis-of-thee finale. In its favor The Majestic's ultimate message is a nice one. The movie does have its heartfelt moments and its '50s feel is authentic if a little polished.