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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At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
S14E2: This year's cast of Dancing With the Stars have already proven they have some serious skills on the dance floor. But it's going to take more than fancy footwork to make it through to the following week now that the audience has a say in the matter. The judges' scores can only get the contestants so far, meaning a couple's popularity is extremely important. It's time to prove their worth, and as of now, the bar is pretty high.
But as the very first week indicated, this group of stars thrive under such pressure and managed to, once again, pull off incredible dance numbers. For the second week, half of the couples must dance the Quick Step, while the other half take on the Jive. And remember -- for their first dance, each star was given several weeks to practice, whereas this time around they were only allotted one week. Let's see whose talents stretch farther than just beginners luck.
So as each couple took another spin on the dance floor, we ranked each performance from best to worst.
Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas
Jive: "Ain't Nothing Wrong With That" by Robert Randolph
Last week, Katherine proved she could show us grace and elegance, but this week she demonstrated that she can be more than America's sweetheart; she can be downright sexy. Her kicks and flicks were incredible. Her posture and timing was spectacular. In truth, she seems just as flawless in dancing as she is in personality. That "Welsh Wiggle" came in handy because this blonde bombshell is a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to the competition factor, this girl is the one to watch. The judges gave the pair a well-deserved 26 out of 30, tying them for the highest score of the night.
William Levy and Cheryl Burke
Quick Step: "Nice Work If You Can Get It" from George Gershwin's "A Damsel In Distress"
The hunky William Levy didn't disappoint with another great performance. Even fully clothed in a tuxedo this guy radiates sexual energy, sending women and men into a swoon-crazed tizzy. His movements were fluid, his timing was great, and Carrie Ann called him the Harry Connick Jr. of the ballroom. But not everyone was feeling the love. Len didn't like frame or body contact and called the performance as a whole "good," not "great." But the rest of the world could not disagree more. Amid all the boos circling in Len's direction, the couple earned an impressive 25 out of 30 points for the night. Something tells us he'll be back to dance another week -- hopefully in a little less clothes.
Roshon Fegan and Chelsea Hightower
Quick Step: "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" by Good Charlotte
This is where we learn just how versatile each of these contestants really are. Roshon was completely out of his comfort zone since hip hop is more his style, but he pulled off the Quick Step with flying colors. His moves were precise and he was the epitome of ballroom sophistication. This guy is just enjoyable to watch no matter the dance routine and the judges agree. Len called the performance young and fresh, while Bruno revealed that he loves Roshon's swagger that he brings to each and every dance. The couple ended up with an impressive score of 26 out of 30, giving them a three point increase from last week. It's safe to say we'll be seeing him again next week.
Jaleel White and Kym Johnson
Jive: "Marry You" by Bruno Mars
Having risen to the top of the leaderboard so quickly last week, it's hard to not go anywhere but down, especially when it's only the second week. The dance was well rehearsed and thoroughly enjoyable, however, the performance did lack of bit of the energy it had in the previous week. For some reason, he seemed less light on his feet, which can be a noticeable mistake when you take on something like the Jive, and the judges seemed a little disappointed by it. Len said that while the dance wasn't terrible, it needed to be sharper and pack more punch. Carrie Ann also remarked that Jaleel seemed a little flat-footed and needs to work on that in the future. They earned a 22 out of 30 points, losing their first place title.
Maria Menounos and Derek Hough
Quick Step: "Sexy, Sexy" by Brian Setzer
Maria showed significant improvement in her Quick Step this week. She seemed comfortable in her movements and once again showed great chemistry with Derek. Granted, she took a misstep at one point in their run-and-kick portion of the dance, but overall she had great speed and control. Carrie Ann seemed a little more concerned with her timing mishap than Len or Bruno, but overall it was an enjoyable, fun performance that sould be strong enough to carry them into next week. The judges gave them a 25 out of 30 for the night.
Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd
Quick Step: "Stay The Night" by James Blunt
Donald made the dance floor his new football field by dancing a superb version of the Quick Step. It was fun and definitely one of the best executed performances of the night. The timing, the steps, the fluidity, everything flowed together so nicely, which shows this guy has a real knack for dancing. And the judges were delighted with what they saw. In fact, Len even admitted to giving him too low of a score last week and said he deserved better than that. Bu that was more than made up for this week when the judges gave them a 24 out of 30. This guy certainly has both the charm and skill to go far in this competition.
Sherri Shepherd and Val Chermkovskiy
Jive: "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
If Sherri had to be summed up in one word it would be: energized. This girl is so full of life and it just radiates in her dancing. She lit up the dance floor and even though she and Val lost step a few times together, she just took charge and went with the flow. It's important to be able to recover quickly if things don't go exactly how they were planned and she handled it in the best way possible. She had just as much fun dancing as we did watching her, and the judges loved it. The duo scored a 23 out of 30 points.
Gavin DeGraw and Karina Smirnoff
Jive: "Real Wild Child" by Buddy Holly
Gavin is probably one of the most currently popular stars on the show, which makes him a great underdog to root for. He's not one of the best performers in the bunch, but he's certainly not the worst. His kicks and flicks definitely need some help, but his overall performance was highly enjoyable to watch (who knew he'd look so good in leather?). Dancing doesn't come naturally to Gavin, so he'll have to work harder than some of the others to reach up to their potential, but this routine was a significant improvement from last week. So if he keeps on improving he could be in this competition for the long haul. The judged granted them a 21 out of 30.
Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya
Jive: "Gimme Some Lovin" by The Spencer Davis Group
This Jive was filled with fast, complicated dance moves and given that this is still only the second week, it's understandable that poor Jack feel a little out of sync at times. Sure his kicks weren't all that precise and sometimes he lost step with the beat, but he was able to hold it together and still manage to give an enjoyable performance. In fact, the judges felt his only problem was that he put a little too much energy into the dance, which made him loss control at times. But overall, they were impressed with what he had to offer and earned a respectable 21 out of 30 points.
Melissa Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Quick Step: "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol
Mel and Maks were tied in last place the previous week, so they were hoping to kick their performance up a notch. And they did to an extent. Melissa still seemed a little hesitant at times and you could see she was in her head a lot, not focusing on being in the moment. And when you can see worry or concentration on someone's face, it distracts the audience from fully enjoying the performance. That being said, it was a slight improvement from last week, but she just needs to get more comfortable and fluid in her movements. And unfortunately, when you're working with a group that's this talented, the bar is set pretty high. The judges awarded them 20 out of 30 points -- the same score that they had during their first week out.
Gladys Knight and Tristan MacManus
Quick Step: "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder
Once again, the empress of soul proved that age knows no bounds on this show. She had a great connection with Tristain and her footwork was amazing. However, the Quick Step is all about technique and the judges felt she wasn't quite up to par in that area. Bruno warned her to watch her frame since it seemed relatively loose throughout the dance and Len admitted that while he respects her a lot for who she is, he didn't care much for the performance at all. From a non-professional standpoint, she was lovely to watch. But sadly, the judges take more than that into consideration when it comes to handing out scores. The pair received a 19 out of 30.
Martina Navratilova and Tony Dovolani
Jive: "Tell Her About It" by Billy Joel
It's always hard when you know a contestant has worked really hard on a routine and it ends up not going the way they planned. Unfortunately, Martina experienced a situation just like that. Right from the beginning, she messed up and stepped with the wrong foot, and she was never quite able to get the rhythm back. There were times when she seemed more on the beat, but for the most part it was sufficiently lacking in timing and energy. She was so concerned with trying to remember her next move that she wasn't able to bring much of a wow factor out on the dance floor. But she maintained a great attitude throughout the whole thing, so she deserves major props for sticking with it. She earned a 17 out of 30, placing them at the bottom of the leaderboard. I fear she may be in jeopardy of going home.
What did you think of tonight's performances? Tomorrow night someone will definitely be eliminated -- who do you think has the biggest threat of being sent home? Sound off in the comments below or get at me on Twitter @KellyBean0415.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.