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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RuPaul’s Battle of the Seasons tour may be wrapped up, but we’re still hungry for some more Drag Race excitement. While we wait for the next batch of queens to grace our screens with more eleganza extravaganzas, let’s take a walk down memory lane and take a look at some of the show's best lip syncs that left audiences gagging for more.
Latrice Royale & Kenya Michaels: “Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin) Latrice Royale is one of the most loved and most memorable queens on the show, and her Aretha Franklin lip sync against Little Kenya Michaels was absolutely chilling. While Kenya bounced around the stage like a bunny in heat, Latrice barely moved from her place, letting her face do all the talking. At that moment, Latrice was Aretha.
Raja & Carmen Carrera: “Straight Up” (Paula Abdul) The awesome Alexis Mateo flat out referred to Raja and Carmen Carrera’s lip sync as soft porn, so that should tell you enough. The 2 “Heathers” were gutted to have to go up against each other, but ended up turning out one of the most memorable performances in RuPaul’s lip sync history. From Carmen stripping down to virtually nothing and Raja leaving her lipstick mark Carmen’s shoulder, this lip synch was straight up hot.
Raven & Jujubee: “Dancing On My Own” (Robyn) In the All Stars season, squirrelfriends Raven and Jujubee were forced to lip sync against each other to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” The lip sync was extremely emotional, with Jujubee and Raven barely even having any oomph in them left to compete against each other. The performance was so moving that RuPaul uttered the magic words to both queens: “Chante, you both stay.”
Alyssa Edwards & Coco Montrese: “Cold Hearted” (Paula Abdul) This was it, guys!! One of the most anticipated sync-offs in Drag Race history. Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese made no secret of their history-laden, drama-filled beef with each other that seemed to transcend countries, eons, and wars. Although both queens had their ups and downs, they had somehow managed to avoid being pitted against each other in the be-all end-all lip sync… until now. Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” was ridiculously apt for the 2 stars and though Coco got to stay, Alyssa left us with some of the best moments from the show (see: “… Back rolls?”)
Roxxxy Andrews & Alyssa Edwards: “Whip My Hair” (Willow Smith)The only time we actually wanted to listen to “Whip My Hair” was during Roxxxy and Alyssa’s crazy lip sync to it. The performance was full of helicopter hair-flinging and sharp dance moves, but when Roxxxy took off her wig only to reveal another wig underneath (!!!!), even RuPaul’s jaw dropped to the floor. Roxxxy may have been petty at times, but she could bring it like no other. The legendary lip sync marked the first time that RuPaul let both contestants stay, because even she knew that all that hair-flipping was no joke.
Manila Luzon & Delta Work: “MacArthur Park” (Donna Summers) What the hell was Manila on during this lip sync? No one will ever know, but we do know that whatever it was, it helped her churn out one of the weirdest yet fiercest performances ever. Looking smoking hot in her yellow Big Bird dress, Manila turned it up all the way – we’re talking eyes popping out, mouth wide open, arms to the sky, crazy queen realness. Her performance was so good that she ended up sending fellow “Heather,” Delta Work, home.
Jinkx Monsoon & Detox: “Malambo No. 1” (Yma Sumac) Hands down one of the greatest lip syncs of all time – the lovable Jinkx Monsoon and the incomparable Detox. The showdown was bound to be intense, since both queens were extremely talented in completely different ways. As fiercely as Detox was bringing it, though, Jinkx stole the show without question. “Malambo No. 1” was made for Jinkx – her over-the-top character and goofy personality complemented her crazy awesome dance moves, and even the always-perfect Detox couldn’t even come close.
Dida Ritz & The Princess: “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” (Natalie Cole) It’s nerve-wracking enough to have to perform in front of Her Royal Majesty RuPaul, but having to perform a song by the original performer of that song makes it even more high pressure. In Dida Ritz’s best performance, she forced The Princess to sashay right the f**k away with her high energy, carefree lip sync to Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be,” done in front of Ms. Cole herself. The performance was so awesome that Dida got handkerchief waves from all the judges.
Jujubee & Sahara Davenport: “Black Velvet” (Alannah Myles) While Raja vs. Carmen was seductive in a porno kind of way, Jujubee’s lip sync of “Black Velvet” was seductive in a classy kind of way. Performing against the lovely Sahara Davenport, Jujubee killed it with her rock chick style and emotional syncing. You really believed that Jujubee was singing the song herself, and her flawless performance sent Sahara packing.
Nina Flowers & BeBe Zahara Benet: “Cover Girl” (RuPaul) One of the best lip syncs for the titles was performed in the very first season of Drag Race – the showdown between Camerooooooooooon (aka BeBe Zahara Benet) and one of the best drag queens in the world, punk rock majesty Nina Flowers. The queens had literally polar opposite styles and their fight for the very first Drag Superstar title was as fierce as expected. Performing to RuPaul’s classic “Covergirl,” the queens battled it out and left audiences everywhere begging for more.
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Wish They All Could Be California Girls: Man, Californication is still going strong! The show is currently casting for its 7th (!!!) season, and both Heather Graham and 24 favorite Mary Lynn Rajskub are making their way to Hank Moody's den of iniquity and self-destruction. Graham will play a woman from Hank's past (one of many), and Rajskub will play a "neurotic writer." Never met one of those. [Via Release]
A Rebel Yells: Are people finally caring about the MTV Movie Awards again? Based on last night's numbers, it would appear to be so. The Rebel Wilson-hosted bash drew in 3.8 million viewers, and was up 21 percent versus the previous year among the network’s core 12-34 viewers. So basically, Aubrey Plaza can sleep well knowing that 4 million people saw cringeworthy stage stunt on Sunday. Yeesh. [EW]
A Good Day For Crazy Celebrities: As Donald Trump's sleazefest Celebrity Apprentice rose 15 and 21 percent to deliver 5.2 million viewers with a four-week high demo rating of 1.7. Not exactly a slam dunk, but could be enough to garner another season. Whether that's good news or terrible news is up to you. [TVLine]
Familiar Face Returns to Supernatural: Looks like there's good news ahead for Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) on Supernatural — Taylor Cole, who played art dealer Sarah Blake seven years ago for Season 1, was on set this weekend! Sarah made history as being the only Sam suitor that Dean has ever liked. She will appear on this year's 22nd episode, "Clip Show," with other blasts from the past. [TVLine]
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In roughly the same amount of time it took for me to learn how to use my heating unit in my new apartment, NBC canceled its midseason bomb Do No Harm. The Steven Pasquale-starring Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-esque medical drama premiered last Thursday, and promptly set a new record — it was the lowest rated in-season broadcast scripted series debut in history. Yes, that's a mouthful, so we'll paraphrase: no one watched it, and that's bad.
Related: 'Do No Harm' Premiere Breaks Record for Lowest Ratings
This week, its ratings declined even further, to 2.2 million viewers and a .07 in its demo. So, from now on, you'll be seeing reruns of Law & Order: SVU on Thursday nights.
This is pretty terrible news for NBC, but it's even worse when you realize that roughly an hour ago, the network lost Christina Applegate from its struggling comedy Up All Night.
Wait... so when does The Voice come back, again?
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Harbron/NBC]
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It must be something in the wind... the Santa Anas have officially arrived, bringing with them a gust of guest spots and network deals galore. See for yourself, and take cover!
Gary Cole Shakes up the Veep: Next season on Veep, Selina Meyer might need to come in on a Saturday. Gary Cole has joined the cast for as many as 8 out of 10 episodes as a Karl Rove-like figure named Kent. Real life Karl Rove? Not so funny. Gary Cole's interpretation of Karl Rove? We're betting on hilarious. [Deadline]
Chicago's Fire is Still Burning: Any fire that features a shirtless Taylor Kinney should not be put out. At least that's what NBC decided when it ordered five more scripts for its freshman drama Chicago Fire, after a hefty ratings jump last night. The show was up 20 percent from last Wednesday, giving the Chicago hotties plenty of news to feel good about. Good enough to start removing random articles of clothing, we'd say. Pics, or it never happened. [Deadline]
Chazz Palminteri Goes Blue: He's on a roll! After some prime guest spots on Rizzoli & Isles and Modern Family, Chazz Palmintieri will guest again on CBS' Friday night hit Blue Bloods, as the city's top mob lawyer. Apparently, Palmintieri's character has a long history with Tom Selleck's Frank Reagan. That's all she wrote for now, but you'll find out more when the episode airs next January. [EW]
Nurse Jackie Gets a Lover: No, it's not prescription pills. Edie Falco's recovering addict Jackie will have a new love interest next season, in the form of Rescue Me vet Adam Ferrera. Ferrera will play an NYPD officer, and he'll recur throughout the fifth season of Showtime's dramedy hit. Hmm, wonder how a cop would feel about some of Jackie's former extracurricular activities? [TVLine]
Revenge Makes Another Investment: Season 2 of Revenge has already featured a plethora of special guests, and it looks like this trend will definitely continue. 24 and Parenthood alum Joaquim de Almeida will guest star during the hit drama's ninth episode, where he'll play a wealthy Grayson Global investor named Salvador Grobet. Let's start placing our bets — will Salvador piss off, or help out Emily Thorne? [THR]
Eva Longoria Gets More Love From Universal: Looks like one former housewife isn't desperate to work in front of the camera. Eva Longoria, who is currently teamed up with Universal Television for the upcoming dating show Ready for Love, has signed a first-look development deal with the studio that includes a non-writing, executive producer agreement with her production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment. Can't wait to see what she cooks up next! [EW]
SpikeTV Offers $10 Million for Bigfoot: I just can't with this. SpikeTV is offering up $10 million to anyone who can prove that the legendary Sasquatch Bigfoot exists. The network's latest reality show — 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty — will feature teams on a quest to find Bigfoot, and the winner *might* walk away with 10 million dollars... if Bigfoot doesn't kill them first! Just kidding, no one is going to win that money. But a group of scientists, zoologists, seasoned trackers, and “actual Bigfoot hunters” will try their best. Your move, TLC. [EW]
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[PHOTO CREDIT: DailyCeleb.com]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.