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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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Overshadowed by the mighty NYCC this past weekend was another New York celebration of movies: the Hamptons International Film Festival. In recent years, HIFF has been an early step in the rise to notoriety of films like the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and Golden Globe-winning The Wrestler. This year's HIFF offered a slew of promising films, winning a variety of awards. Below is a complete list of HIFF's award-winning films for 2011.
AUDIENCE AWARD NARRATIVE
The Artist, directed by Michael Hazanavicius
AUDIENCE AWARD DOCUMENTARY
Hard Times: Lost on Long Island, directed by Marc Levin
AUDIENCE AWARD WINNER FOR BEST SHORT
Two's a Crowd, directed by Jim Isler and Tom Isler
NARRATIVE JURY WINNER
The Fairy, directed by Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy
DOCUMENTARY JURY WINNER
Laura, directed by Fellipe Barbosa
SHORT DOCUMENTARY JURY WINNER
The Strange Ones, directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein
THE KODAK AWARD FOR BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Without, directed by Mark Jackson
THE WOUTER BARENDRECHT PIONEERING VISION AWARD
Without, directed by Mark Jackson
THE VICTOR RABINOWITZ AND JOANNE GRANT AWARD FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
You've Been Trumped, directed by Anthony Baxter
THE ALFRED P. SLOAN FOUNDATION FEATURE FILM PRIZE
Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, directed by Anne Howell and Lisa Robinson
THE BRIZZOLARA FAMILY FOUNDATION AWARD FOR A FILM OF CONFLICT AND RESOLUTION
The Bully Project, directed by Lee Hirsch
In addition to the outstanding films, the Hamptons International Film Festival also recognizes actors and actresses in a category called Breakthrough Performance Recipients. 2011's winners include:
Emily Browning for her performance in Sleeping Beauty
Alexander Skarsgard for his performance in Melancholia
Stine Fischer Christiansen for her performance in Cracks in the Shell
Ezra Miller for his performance in Another Happy Day
Shailene Woodley for her performance in The Descendants
Anton Yelchin for his performance in Like Crazy
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Here's your complete list of the 63rd Annual Golden Globes nominations and winners.
Best Motion Picture--Drama
Brokeback Mountain Winner!
The Constant Gardener
Good Night, and Good Luck
A History of Violence
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture--Drama
Maria Bello, A History of Violence
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica Winner!
Gwyneth Paltrow, Proof
Charlize Theron, North Country
Ziyi Zhang, Memoirs of a Geisha
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture--Drama
Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote Winner!
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
Best Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Pride & Prejudice
The Squid and the Whale
Walk The Line Winner!
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents
Keira Knightley, Pride & Prejudice
Laura Linney, The Squid and the Whale
Sarah Jessica Parker, The Family Stone
Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line Winner!
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy
Pierce Brosnan, The Matador
Jeff Daniels, The Squid and the Whale
Johnny Depp, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Nathan Lane, The Producers
Cillian Murphy, Breakfast on Pluto
Joaquin Phoenix, Walk The Line Winner!
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Scarlett Johansson, Match Point
Shirley MacLaine, In Her Shoes
Frances McDormand, North Country
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener Winner!
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
George Clooney, Syriana Winner!
Matt Dillon, Crash
Will Ferrell, The Producers
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Bob Hoskins, Mrs. Henderson Presents
Best Director--Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Match Point
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Peter Jackson, King Kong
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain Winner!
Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener
Steven Spielberg, Munich
Best Foreign Language Film
Kung Fu Hustle (China)
Master of the Crimson Armor aka The Promise (China)
Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel) (France)
Paradise Now (Palestine) Winner!
Tsotsi (South Africa)
Best Screenplay--Motion Picture
Woody Allen, Match Point
George Clooney & Grant Heslov, Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, Crash
Tony Kushner & Eric Roth, Munich
Larry McMurty & Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain Winner!
Best Original Score--Motion Picture
Alexandre Desplat, Syriana
James Newton Howard, King Kong
Gustavo Santaolalla, Brokeback Mountain
Harry Gregson-Williams, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
John Williams, Memoirs of a Geisha Winner!
Best Original Song--Motion Picture
“A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” Brokeback Mountain Winner!
“Christmas in Love,” Christmas in Love
“There’s Nothing Like a Show on Broadway,” The Producers
“Travelin’ Thru,” Transamerica
“Wunderkind,” The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Best Television Series--Drama
Commander in Chief (ABC)
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Lost (ABC) Winner!
Prison Break (Fox)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series--Drama
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Glenn Close, The Shield
Geena Davis, Commander in Chief Winner!
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Polly Walker, Rome
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Drama
Patrick Dempsey, Grey’s Anatomy
Matthew Fox, Lost
Hugh Laurie, House Winner!
Wentworth Miller, Prison Break
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Best Television Series--Musical or Comedy
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Desperate Housewives (ABC) Winner!
Everybody Hates Chris (UPN)
My Name is Earl (NBC)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds Winner!
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Steve Carell, The Office Winner!
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Jason Lee, My Name is Earl
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men
Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Empire Falls (HBO) Winner!
Into the West (TNT)
Lackawanna Blues (HBO)
Sleeper Cell (Showtime)
Viva Blackpool (BBC America)
Warm Springs (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Halle Berry, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Kelly MacDonald, The Girl in the Café
S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues Winner!
Cynthia Nixon, Warm Springs
Mira Sorvino, Human Trafficking
Best Performance by an Actor In a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Kenneth Branagh, Warm Springs
Ed Harris, Empire Falls
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Elvis Winner!
Bill Nighy, The Girl in the Café
Donald Sutherland, Human Trafficking
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Candice Bergen, Boston Legal
Camryn Manheim, Elvis
Sandra Oh, Grey’s Anatomy Winner!
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Joanne Woodward, Empire Falls
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Naveen Andrews, Lost
Paul Newman, Empire Falls Winner!
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Randy Quaid, Elvis
Donald Sutherland, Commander in Chief