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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OMG U GUYZ THEY R BACK!!! For one night only. The past two seasons, Pretty Little Liars gave us fake Halloween episodes that ultimately really didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the drama. I mean, there was Alison wearing the worst Lady Gaga costume in the history of Lady Gaga costumes. (I would know – I once sang “Pokerface” with a really bad Gaga on Halloween in a West Village McDonald’s for free fries.) This season, we open with Mona in the insane asylum, singing a song probably cut from Sondheim’s Into the Woods because it’s pure horror. Mona is wearing a zipper hoodie, which I think provides 17 potential ways to kill someone and therefore should not be asylum-appropriate attire. Mona is talking about how much she loves Halloween (duh) while painting a papier-mâché head (double duh). She then hands over three pills and three bullets to a masked A creature lurking in the corner – the best Halloween present ever! Trick or treat!
Flash to the Liars, who seem dressed for Halloween already and walking among the densest Halloween decorations in the history of suburbia. There are a lot of fake cobwebs hanging from the trees, which I’m super okay with because that is my favorite holiday decoration. Aria is wearing striped tights, Spencer’s hair is killing it, and Hanna looks like an extra from a club scene in Basic Instinct. No one can see Emily’s body because she’s hiding slash not bringing up the death of Nate. I’m pretending to judge everyone’s look, but really I was squealing because it was so amazing to see these four together and wearing their standard fare. Also, a character that no one has ever mentioned before is dressed up as Skeleton Alison. An example of high class in Rosewood! Cue the newly blood-soaked title cards!
Spencer makes it home and suddenly Garrett is already inside. Ooookay, Garrett, take it easy. Garrett is dropping off flowers for Mariska, but then says a bunch of confusing words that ultimately mean he’s really there to talk with Spencer about something important. Toby enters through the backdoor via apparition, because the Hastings household is basically an open breezeway for the town’s entire teenage population, and Toby promptly kicks Garrett out. Ouch, talk later, bud. Toby’s nose is looking extra flat these days, Spencer calls herself a “modern post-feminist,” and Toby gives Spence another hug where he keeps his eyeballs as creepy as possible behind her back.
Hanna did not make it home, because she went to see Caleb at the hospital; the two are macking in the storage closet, and PLL is suddenly a prequel to Grey’s Anatomy. Remember when that show was good and Izzie wasn’t having sex with a ghost and planes weren’t crashing and Meredith was trying to drown herself during a ferry crisis? Aria also didn’t make it home, as she’s off to Fitz’s apartment. Fitz can’t make the massive Ghost Train party – he has to head to Philadelphia for a big work meeting. Fitz is also giving some creepy eyeballs here and there – does he have secrets? And it does feel like we’re desperately trying to get our girls alone, no? No one knows/cares if Emily makes it home. Oopsie.
Fast-forward to the Ghost Train, and the girls come dressed as movie characters – Hanna is Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, Aria is Daisy from The Great Gatsby (Aria is rude to Hanna about book vs. movie, and I also very much wish she had picked a character from To Kill A Mockingbird), Spencer is Bonnie to Toby’s Clyde, aaand Emily is Barbarella. Emily as Barbarella is, like, the most amazing thing, only everyone gives her and Paige literally the most unenthusiastic welcome when they walk through the cloud of smoke that seems to be the train’s door. There’s also someone wearing Evil Doll Mask, and Jenna dressed as Trampy Pirate featuring a hilariously awesome eye patch. Does Jenna have balls, or DOES JENNA HAVE BALLS. She could have gone for Elle Drive from Kill Bill, but I’m not in charge.
Meanwhile, at the crazy farm, Mona has escape. Surprise, surprise. As everyone is on the train, only the characters we know make it to the “performance car,” a.k.a. the Adam Lambert show. Adam is dressed as a vampire and vamping as hard as humanly possible, reminding us that he didn’t actually win American Idol. I miss crying over American Idol winners. Hanna is dancing like she is the greatest person in the world (newsflash: she is), and Aria is dancing like she’d rather be literally anywhere else; the two together equals the best dance duo on television. There’s a great shot where we linger on Evil Doll Mask wallflowering in the back corner. There’s also a shadowy Phantom of the Opera-esque figure grabbing Hanna’s butt. Jason appears from the smoke door as James Dean from Rebel Without a Cause, which is a really great look for him. I don’t remember what he talked about because I never remember what Jason talks about.
Adam has been singing for 47 minutes to waste a lot of time in the middle of this episode, which allows Hanna to knee Phantom in the crotch before finding out that Phantom is actually Caleb. They kiss a lot. If you thought Phantom was anyone other than Caleb, do you not understand how to watch this show? Adam is also doing this weird maybe flirting thing with Aria because she is clearly depressed about not having Ezra around; the train is really loud, and Aria has to write ARIA in the window fog so Adam can understand her wonky name and continue to homoflirt. He does not comment on the size of her eyeballs. Next thing we know, some Creepy Sparkly Jester is dropping roofie into Aria’s drink while Emily and Paige kiss forever and ever in the back of the train. So much kissing on this haunted train. I need to visit more trains. There are a lot of homosexual agendas on the Ghost Train.
Evil Doll Mask kidnaps Spencer, and it’s… Garrett! Garrett suddenly reveals that he has always cared about Spencer, which is confusing and kind of funny. Garrett is also talking 93 times faster than his normal slow police talk, so we know to listen up. Garrett tells about the night Ali died: Garrett and Jenna took a shortcut through Ali’s backyard, and accidently ran into Ali; after Ali had a bitchfight with the then-blind Jenna, Garrett pretended to kill her with the field hockey stick. Jenna, being blind, thought Garrett actually did the deed. Garrett also saw Alison and Aria’s Father exchanged clipped word in the yard. Spencer runs to get the other girls so they can also hear Garrett’s story, but Garrett has made it very clear that he only wanted to tell Spencer and then disappear forever…
When Spencer goes to find Aria, we notice that the ARIA in the window fog now only reads… A. Welp, Aria is gone. Spencer gets a text — “Guess who’s not gonna make it to the end of the line” — and the girls realizes that A is 100 percent still alive and well and playing games. Uh oh. I did notice that Spencer has a really nice Halloween-themed background on her cellphone, and I hope that app is not terribly expensive. We see that Aria is trapped in a big-ass crate in the luggage compartment of the train as the girls start to search the full train. I kept getting distracted during all of these scenes because Spencer just looks SO. DAMN. GOOD.
Let’s take a short break from the Ghost Train to award Worst Halloween Sub-Plot in the History of Halloween: Hanna’s Porno Mom and Church Pastor are dressed as Raggedy Ann Hot Nurse and Doctor with Exorcist Vom on His Coat, and have built a creepy fake laboratory in the foyer. I would not let me children step foot inside that house. Whatever. Porno Mom keeps seeing a little girl who is clearly from 1742; the little girl is always talking about her mother, and Porno Mom keeps saying, “Here’s the phone to make a call — wait in this random room of my house and I’ll be back in three hours.” Naturally, the little girl is a ghost (or something) and disappears (or something). The ghost girl is cold and I kept thinking, “Molly/Ashley/Laura… you in danger, girl!” Porno Mom and Pastor Doctor drink some wine and discuss signing on for Paranormal Activity 5. The end. All of these scenes made me wish I was watching the Boy Meets World Halloween Scream parody.
Back on the train, Hanna is frantically telling Caleb that A is around, except there is an imposter pretending to be Caleb. That Phantom mask is sneaky. When Hanna pulls off the Phantom mask, the creepster is wearing a shiny latex mask of Alison’s face, which is possibly the most disturbing image this show was pulled. Bravo. On the other side of the train, Creepy Sparkly Jester is choking Spencer to death till Paige shows up and saves the day by scaring off the Jester and stealing one of the Jester’s long red fake nails. Paige tells Spencer “it was a pleasure” saving her life, which comes off way more pseudo-sexual than BFF giggly. Aria, still trapped in her wood case of emotion, is pulling some Houdini magic while rocking the crate. If Aria watched Kill Bill a few more times and also received soapy Japanese training à la Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke, she could have broken out of the crate with her knuckles. Aria also finds out that she is trapped in the box with Garrett’s dead body. YEP, GARRETT IS DEFINITELY DEAD, so there’s the episode’s big murder. Yikes. Lucy Hale is really fantastic through all of this, because when the Liars finally rescue her crate from falling off the back of the train, Lucy brings the trauma. Garrett’s corpse is scary.
The train is stopped due to, you know, murder, and the Liars realize that A is killing off the little “club” that these boys all belonged to while at Rosewood, the people that were around Alison the night she died. Ezra shows up to embrace Aria, and she can’t believe that she has a beautiful boyfriend, even if they dated illegally for an incredibly long time. Noel Kahn and Toby get in a macho shoving match, and Toby throws Noel against a giant ice tub of sodas that had been taking up the entire train for the entire episode. This tub was really distracting. Seriously, I was so thirsty for a chilled soda. Regardless, Noel breaks the ice tub after one of Toby’s hearty slams AND A BODY BAG SPILLS OUT FROM THE ICE. Party favors for everyone! It looks like Alison’s body bag, which was stolen from her grave at the opening of the season. Jason looks… upset. Mona, back in her insane bed, looks very happy. She has the demented Alison latex mask beneath her bed. Uh OH. 279 points for Team A.
The episode ends with a brief reference to De Palma’s Carrie, which I don’t understand at all. There’s a hand reaching up out of the dirt in Alison’s backyard? Is that Alison’s backyard? Was Alison buried alive? Nothing logical can come from all this, other than the reminder that Stephen King’s Carrie novel does not end with the infamous scene from the movie. I love Carrie so much. Hooray, useless facts! PLL returns in full on Jan. 8th, which feels really far away. This Halloween special was more eventful than normal, but we still got a lot of filler. However, that filler consisted of lame 18th century ghosts and a belting homosexual vampire glam band, so no one is allowed to complain. I’m planning on dressing up as Little Edie this Halloween, so maybe the Liars will invite me out since I’m practically a movie character. Right? Fingers crossed.
[Image Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC Family (2)]
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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.
First Billy. Then Georgia. Next … Ally?!? Say it ain't so.
OK, it ain't so.
While "Ally" star Calista Flockhart goes the way of most rich-and-bored TV stars in the pages of the new W magazine, saying she "might be tired of the part … [and would] love branching out into other directions," reps for the actress insist that she's not angling to get out of the hit primetime Fox show.
Flockhart "is perfectly happy as Ally," her reps tell today's New York Daily News.
"Ally McBeal" is heading into the home-stretch run of its third season. Before the year is out, the legal-eagle comedy-drama will say goodbye to original cast members Gil Bellows (as Ally love Billy Thomas) and Courtney Thorne-Smith (as Billy's estranged wife Georgia Thomas).
TALKED OUT? It looks like curtains for would-be daytime talk shows fronted by Martin Short and Roseanne. Trade paper reports today say that staffers for Short's first-year program have been told they'll be out of jobs when the season ends in April. "Roseanne," meanwhile, has been on life support ever since a contingent of big-market NBC stations relegated the show to lousy, late-night time slots just before its second fall season. (Short's show also airs in night-owl time slots in many cities.) Officially, reps for "The Martin Short Show" say "no decision" has been made about bringing the talker back. (It's not nice to ax stuff during Lent.)
THE ALL-NEW OPRAH? John Stossel is about as opposite of Oprah Winfrey as you can get. He's white, he's a guy, he's got a moustache. Still, the buzz is that Stossel, best known to newsmag junkies for his reports on ABC's "20/20," is the heir apparent to the talk queen. Daily Variety says Stossel's in line to get his own hour-long syndicated talker by fall 2001. The producer? Oprah's producer -- King World. The thinking is, Stossel would have a running start to move into Oprah's time slots should the talk queen decide to hang up the mike when her contract expires after 2002.
HAPPY AND GAY? Advice guru Dr. Laura Schlessinger -- under a roaring fire from gay activists who are lobbying Paramount to drop her planned TV talk show because of perceived homophobic comments on her national radio show -- has finally dropped the "S" word ... as in she's "sorry." "… Some of the words I've used have hurt some people, and I am sorry for that," Dr. Laura said in a statement issued Friday. The doc said she merely was talking in a "clinical context," which in no way reflected her nonclinical judgment. That's her story, anyway. Reaction from said gay activists was (and we're paraphrasing here): Uh-huh.