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's often good to follow a particularly explosive, game-changing episode with a bit of a slow burn, and tonight's installment of The Walking Dead — "Say the Word" — was a nice, thought-provoking comedown after last week's devastation. And though I enjoyed the look at senseless violence in Woodbury as well as Andrew Lincoln's chilling performance back at the prison, the episode's high point was clearly the part where Daryl Dixon held, fed, and quieted a screaming baby (though Michonne killing a cage full of Walkers Biters with her boot and her katana was pretty high up there.) The episode spent nearly equal time with the citizens of Woodbury and the bruised and broken residents of Cell Block C, providing some exposition on the former and hope for the future for the latter.
"We're not barbarians," the Governor told Andrea early on in the episode, after a threatened Michonne pulled our her katana. She believed him: because the citizens of Woodbury, at first glance, appeared to be a welcome reminder of what humanity used to be, and (hopefully) could be again. They had block parties, drank iced tea, educated their children, and even wore clean clothing. Families could grow up together without the daily threat of Walker infestation. But at the end of the day, while the Grimes Gang performed C-sections with rusty knives and gave handguns to their children, it was the Woodbury-ites who had officially turned into monsters — like us during a Michael Bay movie, they're totally turned off to violence. Even though Glenn told Hershel he'd kill anyone for the safety of their group, everyone in the Grimes Gang still has a basic respect for human life (which, admittedly, became almost maddening throughout Season 2). They've gotten rid of people who proved to be direct threats to their safety (Michael Raymond James, sniff), just not without hours of discussion and a bit of rational self-hatred. And nobody in the group — not even Shane, when he was still kicking — would be okay with the appalling, barbaric display of senseless violence that Woodbury calls entertainment. Yes, Rick spent most of the episode putting down Walkers while ugly-crying at the same time, but killing them quickly out of grief is a lot different than killing them slowly as a happy spectacle. It's especially disturbing when you remember that all of these people must have lost loved ones to the same disease at some point or another. The Governor swears that it makes them feel safe, but why should they feel safe? They're totally not safe! By numbing them to the danger caused by Walkers/Biters/whatever, he's made the residents of Woodbury completely helpless and dependent on his rule. Genius! But let's back up: Woodbury (well, the Governor) was throwing a block party, undoubtedly to boost an already high general morale. Andrea, just like everyone else in town besides Michonne (and maybe Milton) looked at the Governor like he was Martin Luther King every time he spoke — usually about rebuilding as a community against all odds, or something like that. After months with nothing but Michonne, the flu, and a pair of dead Walkers, she wanted so, so badly to believe it all wasn't too good to be true. But Michonne, ever the practical pessimist, saw right through his genial, Southern Conservative politician exterior to the sociopathic Ted Bundy on the inside. She did some snooping around his house — great for exposition! — and found a notebook full of planned town activities and names, which turned into pages upon pages of identical scribbles after the final name was added to the list — Penny. Penny is, most likely, the Governor's daughter — we saw him creepily brushing her dead hair (and accidentally pulling out clumps of her scalp) minutes before. I'd also bet on her death marking the end of his usefulness as a leader — without someone to really love, he became a man fueled only by his own sick ambitions. Michonne didn't need any more convincing after she saw the cage full of "Biters" on a quiet street — she had retrieved her katana, so it was time to get the Hell out of this f***ed up dodge. But Andrea didn't realize how right she was until it was too late — blondie was horrified by the gladiator show at the end (starring Merle, of course), but it was already too late. She would never make it without Michonne, who was already well on her way to... wherever. TBD. Now compare the horrific numbness to violence in Woodbury to what happened over by the prison, which was a group of people processing the devastation that SHOULD accompany violence. Their first task was to find formula for Lori's newborn, who we found out right away was a girl. (Sophia-Carol-Andrea-Amy-Jackie-Patricia-Lori Grimes, according to Carl.) Rick, who mourned so intensely that he couldn't really be of use or comprehend anything that was going on around him, spent his day running through the cell block like a madman, axing any Walker he could find. In his absence, Daryl took over leadership in a heartbeat, organizing a formula coalition (him and Maggie) and finding emotional support for Carl (Beth) mere minutes after Lori's death. (Daryl's revolution from redneck, to tortured soul who wanted to find Sophia all on his own, to loving member of the group has been delightful to watch. Delightful.) Daryl and Maggie quickly and conveniently found a house that formerly contained children and currently contained formula, leading to a semi-heartbreaking moment where Daryl's eyes paused on a piece of children's "artwork" by a girl named Sofie. This, and a flower placed on "Carol's grave" was the only bit of mourning we saw from him tonight. A lot of this had to do with his personality, but Daryl also knew he had to step up while Rick went on his murderous Walker-rampage. Meanwhile, in the yard, Glenn was tasked with digging Lori, Carol and T-Dog's graves. If this was It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, they'd call this Charlie Work. Glenn has always had to do the Charlie Work, so I was glad when he was able to hand some of it off to newcomers Axel and Oscar. Glenn gave a nice speech to Hershel about the selfless things T-Dog did to help other people during the early days of the zomb-pocalypse, which was good because we never learned anything about T-Dog in three years. Glenn said he'd kill anyone if it meant that it would save one of theirs, which I think, in some way, is similar to how the Governor thinks. Only the Governor doesn't selflessly love a group of people, he loves the idea of a post-pocalypse utopia with himself as an all-powerful but outwardly genial Big Brother figure. Anyone who gets in the way of that gets their head stuffed in a tank. We saw some hope that this group could go on when Daryl came back and made women everywhere swoon by comforting Sophia-Carol-Andrea-Amy-Jackie-Patricia-Lori, while the rest of the gang (minus Rick) looked on. Maybe if Carl sticks with Daryl, he won't grow up to be a serial killer. Which brings us to the end: Rick finally visited Lori's death-spot, where she was suddenly nowhere to be found. We expected to be horrified by Lori's rotting corpse, but what he actually found was about eight zillion times worse: bloody pieces of her remains scattered all over the floor, while an insanely bloated Walker sat nearby, suffering from a post-Super Bowl level food coma. A WALKER ATE LORI. And this, my friends, is where Rick Grimes finally lost it: With eyes deader than Sophia, he shot the Walker in the mouth then repeatedly stabbed his bloated belly (which looked sickeningly like a pregnant stomach) multiple times, like it was the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Lori would suddenly pop out. This ain't that kind of story, Rick. Luckily, we were all saved by the bell — Rick looked like he heard a ghost when the prison phone rang (understandable, since he probably hasn't heard one ring in two years) and picked up. END CREDITS! All in all, another stellar — if slower — episode. Do you think Rick is as deadened to violence as the citizens of Woodbury? Will Andrea escape the Governor's clutches? And who is on that phone — is it that one lady who has power on Revolution? Carol? Ghostface? Sound off in the comments! Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: AMC] MORE: 'The Walking Dead' Recap: Killer Within 'The Walking Dead' Recap: Walk With Me 'The Walking Dead' Reminds Us of TV's 17 Most Disgusting Moments — GALLERY
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
In his new film Due Date director Todd Phillips (Old School The Hangover) stages a rather audacious cinematic experiment placing two enormously talented actors Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis on a mostly deserted island handing them an assortment of blunt and broken tools and charging them with constructing a free-standing fully-functioning Hollywood comedy.
To his credit Phillips was at least considerate enough to supply his comic Crusoes with a detailed blueprint. An odd-couple/road trip movie hybrid Due Date unapologetically mimics Planes Trains and Automobiles one of the John Hughes' rare “grown-up” comedies in which Steve Martin starred as a straightlaced family man forced to travel cross-country with a gratingly affable slob played by John Candy in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. (Surely there have been other such films before and since but Hughes’ work is the one Due Date most vividly recalls.)
The film’s script co-written by Phillips and Adam Sztykiel adds a handful of 21st-century twists to the formula: A baggage snafu while boarding an airplane leads Peter Highman (Downey) a type-A architect with a history of anger-management issues into a confrontation with a Federal Air Marshal that subsequently lands him on Homeland Security’s no-fly list. Stranded without reliable transport lacking the means by which to procure any (he left his wallet on the plane) and desperate to be reunited in L.A. with his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) in time for her scheduled c-section he reluctantly agrees to hitch a ride with the same tubby schmuck Ethan (Galifianakis) who moments earlier was the catalyst of his security debacle.
The unlikely travel companions embark on a calamitous road trip from Atlanta to L.A. during which Ethan proves to be something of a disaster magnet with Peter bearing the brunt of the damage that occurs. Their navigator Phillips lazily guides them through an uneven obstacle course of comic scenarios some of which are embarrassingly predictable (Ethan stores his beloved father’s ashes in a coffee can and they’re later accidentally used to make coffee!) all of which are designed to showcase Downey’s caustic wit and Galifianakis’ sublime daffiness.
Few actors today deliver choice insults better than Downey and even fewer absorb them better than Galifianakis. They make for a truly marvelous collision of opposites and their interplay is what elevates Due Date above its often puzzlingly flat material. (That along with Galifianakis’ gift for physical comedy; no actor outside of the Jackass crew can better sell a collision with a car door.) The film's supporting cast meanwhile criminally underachieves. Conspicuous cameos from the likes of Danny McBride Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx are either unfunny unnecessary or both. On this road trip they’re little more than baggage. Thankfully Downey and Galifianakis are more than capable of shouldering the burden.