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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The actress will compete against stars including former child actor Corey Feldman and Sugababes singer Heidi Range in the ice skating series when it launches this weekend (08Jan12).
Tilton, who is reprising her role as Lucy Ewing in the upcoming new Dallas season, opted to take up the challenge because she wants to grasp every opportunity since losing her partner, cinematographer Cheddy D. Hart, to a lung condition in 2009.
She tells Britain's The Sun, "I decided to do it because my fiance passed away at Christmas two years ago. It was unexpected and was right in front of me. It really made me realise we are not guaranteed our next breath, our next heartbeat - only God knows.
"I thought, 'I'm going to take every opportunity life brings.' I want to live life to the full."
S3E7:In general, this week’s Modern Family is stacked with high highs and low lows, and balances out to a slight step up from the series’ recent output. It offers a better-than-average Jay/Gloria story and a worse-than-average Claire/Haley story. As always, Phil and Luke are gold. But the thing that resonates most in “Treehouse” is the show’s insistence on using Cam’s homosexuality as a punchline.
“If you let me keep that hang glider, those geese would have followed me to the wetlands.” – Phil
“You would have died.” – Claire
“A hero.” – Phil
Claire starts out the episode in her normal state of frustration with her family. Phil is up to very Philish hijinks: building a treehouse as a (very) thinly veiled attempt to recapture his lost youth. But the main problem: Haley is having trouble with her college essay (a running theme in the series). Haley’s dilemma stems from a lack of hardship in her life. Instead of employing introspection or anything else that Haley has probably never heard of, she complains about how easy her life has been and blames this lack of real experience on her mother. Claire responds by tricking Haley into taking a car ride with her somewhere outside of the neighborhood and then leaving her without a phone or money to get home on her own (the perfect fodder for her essay). The problem with this storyline is: we don’t actually see Haley getting home. In between her abandonment and her frazzled storming through the front door, we see or hear nothing from Haley or Claire. This could have been a comic goldmine, and possibly some interesting character development (okay, maybe just a comic goldmine). But instead, the episode opts for some catty remarks between the Dunphy women that make the whole plot seem useless.
“I could totally be a womanizer.” – Cam
“Or you could be someone who just stepped out of a machine called The Womanizer.” – Mitchell
The plot complexity is at least a step above the Lucy-Ricky squabbles that Cam and Mitchell were having for a few weeks: Cam wants to prove himself capable of “passing for straight,” so he hits on a woman at a bar (Leslie Mann), but worries that he has taken it too far when she wants to see him again. My issues with this storyline are detailed in my introduction. Throughout the episode, as you might imagine, there are a ton of jokes about Cam’s sexuality, many of which structured around what his being a gay man “must” indicate about him. Now, I’m not certain whether or not I’m being too sensitive here. Cam’s homosexuality is not being treated with malice—this is something of which the show is never guilty. But when Mitchell, a character we’re supposed to consider intelligent and likeable, attributes Cam’s supposed fragility to his being gay, it seems harmful. Especially since, as a gay man himself, Mitchell acts as sort of an authority on what it is “okay” to think about gay men. Of course, no one individual can be an authority on what it is okay to say about any group of people, whether he belongs to said group or not, but television characters do assume these roles in the eyes of their viewers. Thus, I think it a little irresponsible to have Mitchell tossing around stereotypes in such a generalizing fashion. I won’t say a few of the more clever jokes didn’t work, primarily thanks to Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s delivery. But this is something with which the show needs to be careful.
“Honey! The dude in the tree is cool!” – Andre
The Jay/Gloria storyline is both benign and forgettable, so I’ll gloss over it for the most part: Gloria thinks Jay is boring and passionless because he won’t take her out salsa dancing like returning character Shorty (Chazz Palminteri) does with his ladyfriend Darlene (Jennifer Tilly, who is as Jennifer Tilly as ever in this role). The truth is: Jay can’t dance, and is self-conscious about this. First, he asks Manny to teach him, but this amounts to naught. So, he takes a “drug” offered to him by Mitchell to loosen up—success. Of course, the drug is a placebo (Baby Aspirin), but anyone who knows Mitchell should guess this right away. Moving right along to what is, unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the episode: the Phil/Luke story.
The magic duo has both minimal screen time and a lack of particularly memorable lines, but their characters are so much more rich than anything else on the show. Phil forces a vacant Luke into the exploit of building a treehouse. In truth, Phil is feeling like he has lost his youth and no longer has the sort of friendships he did when he was a child who could just call to the other neighborhood kids to run out and play. It’s actually legitimately sad when Phil begins to reveal his true intentions. Eventually, Luke bails on Phil out of frustration—and a sense of doom surrounding the project—leaving his dad stuck up in the tree. But Phil catches the eye of a neighbor, Andre (Kevin Hart), who, despite having lived right over the fence for eight years, has never met Phil. It’s a somewhat touching moment when Phil realizes he is not actually the man-without-a-country he assumed himself to be. Andre is in the same boat: he immediately jumps onboard with the treehouse project, channeling the same sensibilities Phil had when he pioneered it. The episode closes with a promise of Phil/Andre storylines to come, which seems like good material for comedy. Two adult Phils is even more destructive than one, and this might free Luke up to spread some of his glory to another pairing. Manny perhaps? I’ve always appreciated the two of them working together.
I am still a bit torn on the Cam/Mitchell issue. Am I missing the point of all these gay jokes? Are they simply there to illustrate affable characters with human flaws, living a funny but normal lifestyle? I’m not unwilling to accept that I might be simply not getting it, but it seems to be that the show is just taking the easy route to comedy, at the expense of a value it claims to embrace.
Hey, remember all those great films based on SNL sketches?
No, that’s because by and large stretching a three-minute comedy routine into a ninety-minute feature means padding the runtime with six different kinds of crap strung loosely together on celluloid. Films like Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, Stuart Saves His Family, It’s Pat, and The Ladies Man are all sterling examples of this tendency toward failure. One could make a strong case for Wayne’s World, but even that is not universally haled as a great film by any stretch the imagination.
The only real time that this adaptation process has been fruitful, the one time they actually managed to catch lightning in a bottle, was 1980’s The Blues Brothers—and it’s now on Netflix Instant.
Who Made It: The Blue Brothers was directed by none other than the great John Landis. If you aren’t familiar with this director, rectify this oversight immediately. Landis is a jack-of-all trades director who has proven himself to be dexterous in nearly every genres. He gave us the seminal comedies National Lampoon’s Animal House, Trading Places, and Three Amigos as well as horror classics An American Werewolf in London and The Twilight Zone Movie (he directed one of the segments). There is an appropriateness to featuring Mr. Landis this week as his An American Werewolf in London was screened as part of Fantastic Fest; which just wrapped yesterday.
Who’s In It: Saturday Night Live icons, and comedy legends, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi play the titular siblings. Between the two of them, these guys have amassed the most epic collection of hilarity imaginable. Their resumes boast more classics than we even have time to list. In 1980, the duo were in their comedic prime and the bizarrely stoic way they play off one another is the crux of what makes this film work.
What’s It About: Elwood and ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues are the greatest blues music act in the world. Unfortunately, Jake’s recent incarceration has derailed their dreams of making it big and left their backup band scattered all over the country. When Jake is finally released, Elwood is there to pick him up. The two end up visiting the Catholic school where they grew up and find out that it is in danger of being shut down. They realize that God has charged them with a mission to save the school. They drive around the country reassembling their band to hold a benefit concert.
Why You Should Watch It: The Blues Brothers is an experiment in quiet absurdity. I believe the reason that this film succeeds where so many other SNL sketch adaptations have has failed is that The Blues Brothers sketch was so barebones. It wasn’t predicated on overly goofy setups or catchphrase-desperate dialogue. The whole conceit was that these two physically divergent comedians would dress up in suits and perform blues music. The film takes this concept and runs with it, but there’s never a point where they can jump the shark because they had established no other canon up to that point. Any story about their origins or even their life outside that studio stage was entirely up in the air.
And holy harmonica, do they create a weird life story for them. They ride around in reconditioned police cars, wear their sunglasses at night (much like Corey Hart) and are chased cross-country by a group of Illinois Nazis. If that’s not enough ridiculousness for your taste, they are also stalked by Carrie Fisher, Jake’s ex-lover who is trying to kill them any chance she gets. She goes so far as to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at them and blow up their apartment. The ending of the film is a triumph of farce when a squadron of police cars following them ends up in a towering pile.
But the best thing about The Blues Brothers is the innumerable cameos and spectacular musical numbers. Everyone from James Brown to Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin shows up and leads jaw-dropping song-and-dance sequences. Throughout all these sequences, no matter how out of place they may seem, Jake and Elwood remain straight-faced and enthusiastically executing their choreographed moves. I think my favorite is the Cab Calloway performance of “Minnie the Moocher.”
Overall, The Blues Brothers is one of the most entertaining and riotously funny musicals ever made. John Landis takes an esoteric piece of SNL lore and creates comedy gold. On top of all that, the movie is endlessly quotable. I defy you not to bat about the line, “we’re on a mission from Gaahd” whenever possible.
If nothing else, you have to respect Jake and Elwood’s sense of style.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
British model Caprice, Pink's biker boyfriend Corey Hart, and Sylvester Stallone's ex Janice Dickinson will be among the stars of the upcoming new series of celebrity reality show Surreal Life.
The trio will join shamed former baseball player Jose Canseco, Salt-N-Pepa
star Sandi Denton, actor Bronson Pinchot and reality TV diva Omerosa
Manigault-Stallworth when the fifth season of the bizarre show debuts in
In the show, which is now in production, a group of celebrities are taped 24
hours a day while living together in a Hollywood Hills mansion.
Former Surreal Life stars have included Verne Troyer, Flavor Flav, Brigitte Nielsen and Vanilla Ice.
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