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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I’m not sure how many additional ways I can crank out a recap simply praising Happy Endings for every conceivable fiber of its being before it begins to seem like I’m on ABC’s payroll. So to shake things up this week, I’m going to abstain from recapping/reviewing the latest episode of Happy Endings. Instead, I’m going to offer a few thoughts on the most cult of classic Real World incarnations: the unaired season of The Real World: Sacramento.
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See, in case you don’t know, it is this reality television phenomenon that first introduced contemporary best friends Max Blum and Brad Williams, thus involving Brad in the life and community of the former and instituting the lifelong love affair he’d come to enjoy with present wife Jane Kerkovich. As we find out in the holiday themed Happy Endings episode “More Like Stanksgiving,” the gang met Brad through Max via the pair’s foray on this ill-fated TV series back in 2002. And it went a little something like this…
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The year is 2002… obviously. Tensions are high in the wake of Vanilla Sky, dreadlocks are still very much as stylish as pink hair and acid-washed half-shirts, and The Real World is very much a show. We find ourselves among a throng of eclectic twentysomethings. The pack includes cleft-chinned Jared, the girl that will eventually set the house on fire, the party-loving Brad and all-about-the-sex-with-his-girlfriend Max, whose heterosexuality is abundant enough to warrant repetitive vocalizations of its very essence. Quite the troupe.
It is this latter duo that calls the primary focus on Sacramento, effectively staving off their housemates to roles nearly nonexistent, oddly enough. Max invites his pals from college over to the Real World house to bask in the luxuries of indoor traffic lights and fights about who does whose dishes (the answer seems to be no one).
Max’s impressively coifed girlfriend Penny and their friends Dave, Alex, and Jane arrive, establishing themselves as hearty presences in the homestead. This Jane character, imposing upon the regulars an air of authority that fans are sure to voice displeasure with (if only there was some medium for brief but pointed public expressions of rage available in this present year of 2002), immediately manhandles the evening party, creating a signup sheet to prevent any sort of overpopulation of the hot tub. She seems to be getting off on the wrong foot with just about everyone, especially that sharp-tongued Brad.
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Meanwhile, Max is enthralled by his reunion with beloved girlfriend Penny. The two are brazenly enamored with one another, kind-of-almost kissing in every shot of the episode. Passion like this is unprecedented, even in young love. But something appears to be troubling Max throughout the ep. Something is holding him back from performing one of the body shots he assures everyone the couple does so regularly.
While Max and Penny are solid as a rock, one considerably more jagged dynamic takes center stage later in the episode: newcomer Jane, seeking out the late night company of that beacon of chinly goodness Jared, accidentally stumbles into the bedroom of Brad — the same Brad who had badmouthed her so wittily mere scenes earlier. Succumbing to their humanly desires, the two do spend the night together... but we can rule out anything amounting from this. Jane and Brad? Hardly a match made in Heaven — never has a pair been so mismatched as to practically insist upon immediate desolation. The poor things.
But back to the romantic mainstay: Max and Penny. The two will be together forever. But does she know his secret? Yes, the conclusion of this week's TRW: Sacramento treats the audience to something that Max has been holding back for who knows how long. In a dramatic, sandwich infused admission to one of the other housemates (who can remember the names, really?), Max professes the truth: he's Greg.
A cliffhanger like this has not met an episode of The Real World in seasons. How will it conclude? What sort of catastrophic breakup with Brad and Jane face next week? Stay tuned to find out!
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
You love them, we love them, and it's high time Emmy recognized them. We're talking about the TV actors and actresses who have yet to be recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, despite drawing us in week in and week out with their awe-inspiring ability to make us laugh, cry, or a weird combination of both. So every day here at Hollywood.com, we're going to be saluting those on the small screen who deserve an Emmy nomination, longshot status be damned. Today, we cast our ballot for Happy Endings' own Max Blum, Adam Pally.
"Here we GO!"
That is the sound of pure jubilation. A jubilation derived from the observation of one's closest, and only, confidants' crumbling psyches, as their personal lives slip deeper into the snake pit of unfortunate dejection that has overwhelmed them for years. That is the sound of lazy self-importance and a consistent disregard for social norms, others' feelings, and any real implications of dignity. And all that is the makings of one of the funniest characters on contemporary TV: Max, portrayed by Adam Pally on Happy Endings.
When the lighthearted ABC sitcom debuted, Pally delivered Max as what seemed to be a simple aversion of gay stereotypes. Max, a gay man, prefers sports over fashion, maintains a chunky body frame, and exhibits a pretty limited emotional scope: all things you're unlikely to find in a homosexual character on comedic television. But Max is far more than just a political statement, or a one-note character. As the series has progressed, fans have discovered him to be the most viable source of surface value humor and of legitimate character design that the riveting Happy Endings has to offer. Pally plays Max with a bite that makes him worthy of our attention, even when his friends don't consider him worthy of theirs (and with good reason... he doesn't accomplish much).
Despite the above description, Max is not pure evil. He may be selfish, insensitive, and unwilling to do just about anything for just about anybody, but those "just abouts" are where his humanity comes in. He took in his college pal Dave (Zachary Knighton) after fiancée Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) left him at the altar, and proceeded to extend a helping hand when Dave was exhibiting signs of a harmful addiction... to v-necks. He has gone to bat for the benefit of well-to-do married couple Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), although not before taking advantage of their equally unbalanced psyches. But the most indicative of Max's inner heart is his relationship with Penny, played by Casey Wilson.
As Max might be the human version of Garfield, Penny is his Jon Arbuckle. She's unrefined, insecure, and completely incapable of handling her own life. But her rock is Max. He loves her just as she is, and consistently illustrates that in his own begrudging, often sarcasm-laced way.
The humor and the softer side of Max are both attributed to the glorious performance of Pally. He makes the character mean, but lovable. Hilarious, but sad. Max is more than just a wise-cracking sidekick; he's a lonely man, stuck in the only routine with which he's comfortable. The way Pally carries Max through each episode is not only entertaining — it's extremely artistic. He's constantly looking for love all the while pushing it away. And he throws in a handful of Goonies references and sardonic remarks to boot.
While everyone on Happy Endings should be applauded, Pally is the reigning champion. Although we might not see him win an Emmy, he certainly wins our favor week by week.
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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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.
Source: Variety, The LA Times
Pre-existing properties are priorities for motion picture studios these days and Warner Brothers Pictures are forging ahead with film adaptations of two pop-culture staples.
First up, Variety reports that the studio and production company Atlas Entertainment are developing a feature film based on CBS' "Gilligan's Island." Charles Roven and Richard Suckle will produce for Atlas, with Brad Copeland writing the screenplay. Original show producer Sherwood Schwartz is on board to executive produce along with son Lloyd Schwartz.
The trade says that plans are for a contemporary take on the iconic show and that production is intended to start next year, but won't move forward on seeking a director or cast until Copeland's script is completed.
"The characters are so good," Roven said. "We think it's going to be a great story to transport these cultural icons to the modern day."
In addition, The Los Angeles Times reports that WB is also negotiating to acquire feature rights to classic video game "Space Invaders" from Taito, the Japanese company that originally manufactured the game. The project would be produced by Mark Gordon (The Day After Tomorrow, Saving Private Ryan), Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity) and Guymon Casady.
"Space Invaders" was designed by Tomohiro Nishikado and released in 1978. The game was later licensed for production in the United States by Midway.