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 decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Top Story: Vandross' Condition Improves
Luther Vandross was moved out of intensive care Thursday for the first time since suffering a debilitating stroke April 16, Reuters reports. "I am happy to report that Luther Vandross continues to improve and that he is more and more responsive each day," Carmen Romano, his business manager and longtime friend, told Reuters. "I feel as though I am watching a modern-day miracle," he added.
Eminem's Ex-Wife Busted for Possible Drug Possession
Kim Mathers, former wife of Grammy-winning rapper Eminem, may be looking at drug charges after police found what looked to be cocaine in her car during a routine traffic violation, The Associated Press reports. Mathers was pulled over Tuesday in St. Clair Shores, Mich., for failure to change lanes to move away from an emergency vehicle that was parked on the shoulder, police told AP, and was arrested for driving with a revoked license. She was released pending further investigation, and no formal charges had been filed as of Thursday afternoon, AP reports.
Love Is in the Air
As if we didn't already know, Harrison Ford has officially announced he is in love with actress Calista Flockhart, according to People magazine. "Romantic love is one of the most exciting and fulfilling kinds of love and I think there is potential for it at any stage of your life. I was not surprised that I was able to fall in love, and I wasn't surprised that I did. But I'm very grateful," Ford, 60, told People.The couple met at the January 2002 Golden Globes.
Peck's Spirit Hovers Over De Niro's AFI Tribute
As the American Film Institute honored actor Robert De Niro Thursday with a lifetime achievement award, it was the spirit of film icon Gregory Peck, who had died earlier that day, that permeated the ceremony. Reuters reports as De Niro took the stage to thank the audience and participants for his award, the actor paid simple homage to Peck. "Good night and good night Gregory Peck," De Niro said.
Hawaiian Kudos for Davis, Reiner
Director Rob Reiner and Geena Davis were both honored at the Maui Film Festival Thursday night, AP reports. Reiner's award was given "for his heartfelt professional commitment to making films that matter and his long held personal commitment to work for social justice and the triumph of the human spirit." Oscar-winning actress Davis was presented the festival's Stella Award for selecting roles that show women making choices that empower their lives.
Berry Files Suit Against Former Homeowner
Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry filed a $2 million lawsuit against the former owner of her home, claiming the house she and her husband, Eric Benet, recently bought needed more than $1 million in repairs, AP reports. Berry claims they paid more than $2 million for the Beverly Hills house, but found out only after the purchase that it "contain[ed] major undisclosed [geological] defects that would require over $1 million in corrective measures."
Lee Wins Fight Over Name…For Now
Spike Lee was granted a temporary cease and desist in using the name Spike TV. AP reports a Manhattan judge on Thursday granted the 25th Hour director's petition and ordered Viacom, Inc. to stop using Spike TV as the new name for its TNN Network, pending a trial on the issue. The court, however, also ordered Lee to post a $500,000 bond to cover Viacom's losses in case the company wins, AP reports.
Fake Britney Spears Gets Fake Breasts
Reuters reports a waxwork model of the pop princess, to be displayed at Madame Tussauds museum in London, will be equipped with a pair of inflatable breasts that will pulsate in time to her dancing. The museum wants to make its models not just visual but tactile. "Brad Pitt has got a squeezable (latex) bum, but Britney would be the first with heaving bosoms," the museum's spokeswoman told Reuters.
Role Call: Latifah Hails Taxi, Marshall Takes on Geisha
Queen Latifah is set to star in the 20th Century Fox film Taxi. No, it's not a big screen version of the hit TV sitcom but a remake of the 1998 French film of the same name. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the story centers on a speedy cabbie (Latifah) who teams up with an eager young cop to solve a series of bank robberies…Chicago director Rob Marshall is poised to helm the film adaptation of the popular novel Memoirs of a Geisha, to which director Steven Spielberg was once attached. Geisha follows the life of a young Japanese girl who becomes a very famous and sought-after geisha.