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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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The only thing worse than having to hear "The Christmas Shoes" on the radio is the thought of visiting the mall between Thanksgiving and December 24th. So why bother trying to elbow your way through the masses? We got ideas for all the Christmas shopping you need to do right here and it's all thanks to the Real Housewives.
If there is one thing these ladies can do it's shill. OK, they're good fighters, too. Oh, and champion narcissists. But other than brawling and flattering themselves, they're also excellent at using their fame to sell us crappy products. Mostly jewelry and booze, but there are other things too. Like books, they write a lot of books. Here is your complete Real Housewives Gift Guide. Sorry, but each wife only gets one product, so there are still more that aren't even on the list. Yes, it's a travesty.
Ramona Pinot Grigio: Regular muggle wine isn't good enough for the Housewives, and it shouldn't be good enough for you either. This wine is made from the fermented nectar of crushed dreams. Enjoy.
Who to Buy It For: Your boozy best friend
Available At: Wherever fine liquors are sold.
Wines by Wives: The only thing better than watching Housewives drink wine and do stupid things is imbibing the same wine that they're drinking while watching them do stupid things. Pick which wife you want to pick out your wine.
Who to Buy It For: Your wine snob father
Available At: Wines By Wives
Skinny Girl Margaritas: An empire is not built by television programs alone and a mogul is not measured by the number of catchphrases she spawns. Help build Bethenny Frankel's brand while slimming down.
Who to Buy It For: Your tubby neighbor
Available At: Everywhere, girl
Fabulicious!: Fast and Fit: Teresa's Low-Fat, Super Easy Italian Recipes: If all the punctuation in this title were macaroni, you'd be so fat right now.
Who to Buy It For: Your coworker who always talks about Weight Watchers
Available At: Amazon
Yummie Tummie Shapewear: Why buy someone clothes when you can make them look better in the ones they already have? Heather Thompson would say "Holla!" at this point.
Who to Buy It For: Your sister-in-law who can't drop the baby weight
Available At: Yummie Life Dot Com
Jill Zarin's Evil Eye Pendant: Ward off Bethenny Frankels everywhere with these "brilliant pave crystals" from Jill Zarin Jewelry.
Who to Buy It For: Everyone
Available At: Jill Zarin Jewelry, which a million people follow on social media
What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love: Carole Radziwill is a good person and a great writer. Even Oprah liked this!
Who to Buy It For: People you actually care about
Available At: Amazon
SkyZone Sports Gift Card: Even former Real Housewives need to make money. Why not hop on over to Alexis Bellino's trampoline park? It is sponsored by Our Personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Who to Buy It For: Kids. Christians.
Available At: In Anaheim
Adrienne Maloof Yvonne Sandal: Nothing says luxury like a sparkly spiked strappy heel. And it's 50% off!
Who to Buy It For: Your brother's slutty girlfriend
Available At: Belk.com (What even is that?)
Lynne Curtain Cuff: Remember Lynne, the scared squirrel from the OC who designed awful bracelets and named them after her horrible daughters? Yeah, I didn't think so.
Who to Buy It For: That girl in your office you hate
Available At: Lynne Curtain Dot Com
A Gift Certificate to SUR: Who doesn't want to eat at Lisa Vanderpump's sexy, unique restaurant? And you get to hang with the cast of Vanderpump Rules, yet another reality show.
Who to Buy It For: Your fat cousin who is visiting L.A.
Available At: In person in Beverly Hills
A House from The Agency: Sure Mauricio Umansky isn't really a Housewife, but he finances Kyle Richards' lifestyle. And who doesn't have $16 milllion to plop down on a property?
Who to Buy It For: Yourself, stupid. Or me. I'll take it.
Available At: How about this Bel Air Mansion?
Viva Diva Wines: You always wanted to get drunk with Kim Zolciak and now you can. Well, at least with her line of flavored wines. Did she grow up on Boone's Farm or something?
Who to Buy It For: Your drunk sister (or, if you want to be the cool aunt/uncle, your high school-aged nieces and nephews)
Available At: Viva Brands USA
Sonja Home Toaster Oven: Yes, you have a toaster and you have an oven, but do you have a toaster oven? No?! How are you going to make frozen pizza?
Who to Buy It For: Your college-aged child
Available At: Nowhere (this product is still hypothetical)
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Splash News]
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The thing about Christmas, and Hanukkah, and family, and presents is that you don't always get what you want. Each year, the mound of gifts that waits for you under the tree fills your soul with hope, anticipation, and expectation. And each year, those hopes are dashed upon the shore of broken dreams with each festive bow you untie; each glittering piece of paper you rip to shreds.
But blessed is the relative who includes a gift receipt at the bottom of your package. All hope is not lost! In two shakes of a lamb's tail and four hours spent in traffic on the way to the mall (or, for smart people, fifteen minutes on the Interweb) that sad, unwanted present can become something awesome. Lucky for you, we have the ultimate resource for finding the perfect substitutes for your meh gifts right here.
Let's say your mom gives you a scrunchie; trade it in for... An embellished headband just like Jess wears! This New Girl may currently be single and unemployed, but her snappy style never takes a day off. She knows you're never fully dressed without a smile (and some great accessories).
Find it at: Anthropologie
Your grandmother gives you an ugly Christmas sweater, complete with reindeer and actual jingle bells; trade it in for... One of Taylor Swift's polka dot sweaters! Taylor always looks cozy (and perfectly twee) in her oversized sweaters, and we guarantee you hers don't itch (sorry Nana).
Find it at: French Connection
Your brother gives you an "I Heart New York" shot glass he bought for $3 at the bus station; trade it in for... An authentic Paddy's Irish Pub flask! The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang sure knows how to have a good time. Be ready for a party anywhere at any time with this bad boy.
Find it at:
With To Rome with Love Woody Allen puts another stamp in his filmmaking passport in a gorgeously shot homage to the art architecture and people of the historic city. Unfortunately the film's four story lines are not created equal; jam-packing the movie with so many characters leaves them all just a little underdeveloped. The most interesting is a blossoming love affair between Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend's best friend Monica (Ellen Page). While his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) is given short shrift in this scenario the most entertaining part is the ongoing dialogue between Jack and John (Alec Baldwin) an architect who remains delightfully mysterious. Is he simply revisiting his past and advising a young man amid a position in which he himself once found himself or is it more literal? It's hard to say but his brusque advice — "Go ahead walk into the propeller" — is always as entertaining as it's true.
As far as the other plot threads go we have the inevitable culture clash between American and Italian future in-laws; Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) a dorky normal guy who finds himself at the eye of an inexplicable media hurricane; and a newly married couple that get separated in the big city and end up learning all sorts of sexy lessons about themselves. Allen also wedges Penélope Cruz in as a prostitute who schools the young married man on the reality of the culture around him (turns out her clientele are just as if not more powerful than his uptight relatives who will determine the boy's professional future) . She's also there to wear a tight dress (Woody's yen for including random sex workers in his movies is well documented but remains baffling).
None of these characters is given enough screen time to be fleshed out which is frustrating as many (though not all) are quite interesting on their own and could even had their own feature-length stories. Instead of just one character who's acting as a proxy for Allen we get a dizzying array of them: Jack as the young and hungry Allen (Eisenberg's hyper-literate New York upbringing makes him a perfect surrogate); John as the middle-aged Allen full of regret and struck with Ozymandias melancholia in the face of such history; the young newlywed who has an opinion on everything; Leopoldo as the guy who finds the media attention aggravating and enjoyable in equal turns; Allen playing himself an older father who fears retirement just as much or more than he fears death. While it's an interesting idea in theory it's not handled dexterously enough to completely fit together.
To Rome With Love is a charming trifle that won't necessarily sate Woody fanatics but will please the Midnight in Paris crowd. It's still a better choice for theatergoers than plenty of other summer movie options.
Real Steel – the new sci-fi sports flick from Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy – is set in the year 2020. Its vision of the future looks remarkably similar to the present save for the fact that the sport of boxing has been taken over by pugilistic robots. There are no robot butlers taxi drivers or senators – just boxers. Apparently technology in 2020 has advanced enough to allow for the creation of massive mechanized beings of astonishing dexterity but humanity has found no use for them beyond the boxing ring.
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton a has-been boxer turned small-time robot-fight promoter. A consummate hustler who’ll do anything for a buck Charlie’s fallen on hard times of late. Opportunity arrives in the diminutive guise of 11-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo) his estranged son who turns out to be something of an electronics wunderkind. Together they work to fashion Atom an obsolete ramshackle “sparring robot” left to rot in a junkyard into a contender.
Anyone who’s seen an underdog sports movie – or any movie for that matter – made in the last half-century can fairly easily ascertain how this one plays out. (The story borrows tropes from The Champ Rocky and Over the Top wholesale.) Atom proves surprisingly capable in the ring compensating for his inferior technology with grit perseverance and an ability to absorb massive amounts of punishment. Under the guidance of Charlie and Max he makes an improbable run through the ranks eventually earning a one-in-a-million shot at the World Robot Boxing championship.
Real Steel was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg; it bears his unmistakable imprint. Levy judiciously deploys Spielberg’s patented blockbuster mix of dazzling special effects and gooey sentiment wrapping it all in a highly polished if wholly synthetic package. Still Real Steel might have amounted to so much glossy hokum were it not for its champion Hugh Jackman. Other actors might eye such a project as an opportunity to coast for an easy paycheck but damned if Jackman isn’t completely invested. The film’s underdog storyline isn’t nearly as inspiring as watching its star so gamely devote himself to selling material that will strike anyone over the age of 12 as patently ludicrous. His efforts pay off handsomely: Real Steel is about as rousing and affecting as any film inspired by Rock’em Sock’em Robots can expect to be. (The filmmakers claim lineage to a short story-turned-Twilight Zone episode but who are they kidding?)
Roseanne Barr is in talks with folks at NBC to make her return to television on their new sitcom, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me Chelsea. If they nab the comedienne, the show will have a really great shot at officially becoming the most obnoxious sitcom soon to be on television. Bravo.
The show's creator, Chelsea Handler, told The Hollywood Reporter that she's hoping to bring Barr on the protagonist's (also named Chelsea) aunt. To refresh your memory, Are You There, Vodka? is the multicamera sitcom based on Handler's book that finds Chelsea fresh off a DUI charge, working at a bar, and dealing with her overbearing, overly wholesome sister (played by Handler) and a ridiculous set of friends.
The aunt role is apparently a much better offer for Barr, who was originally slated to cameo as a "lesbian prison inmate who befriends Chelsea after her arrest for a DUI." Wow, this show just keeps getting classier and classier. Apparently that role wasn't abolished; it was merely recast with Dot Jones, who you may recognize as Coach Beiste from Glee. Speaking of which, whatever happened to Coach Beiste?
Anyway, Handler is hopeful that Barr will accept her offer, saying that the actress has expressed interest. The role would entail multiple guest appearances and hopefully something a little less stereotypical than a lady prisoner who's also a lesbian. It also makes it less likely that I'll stick around during Are You There, Vodka?'s time slot when this show finally hits NBC's line-up at the midseason mark.
At the time of Scream’s release in 1996 the state of Hollywood horror was at a pretty low-point. For every Dracula there was a Frankenstein. For every original idea there were dozens of painful sequels. There were some truly terrifying films released during the decade but there wasn’t a lot we hadn’t seen before. Then along came Wes Craven’s now classic slasher pic a revisionist take on the genre that simultaneously dissected its tropes while embracing them. It was equally hilarious and horrific thanks to the auteur’s precise execution and Kevin Williamson’s sharp sardonic script that dynamically pooled the characters’ points of view with those of the audience. Scream’s self-awareness was a true game-changer that has carved a very nice place in film history for itself. Fifteen years and two sequels later the franchises’ principle players have all returned to Woodsboro to catch up on cinematic commentary and thwart the sadistic plans of yet another Ghostface killer in Scre4m.
In how many ways does this bloody new chapter differ from the others? Not many. The story begins when Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott now the best-selling author of a self-help book returns home on the last stop of her promotional tour. There she meets up with Dewey and Gale Weathers-Riley (David Arquette and Courtney Cox) her friends and mutual survivors of the Woodsboro Murders though there’s precious little time for a warm reunion because someone has inherited the mantle of Ghostface and begun taking out the town’s well-endowed teenagers. The trio along with a young and attractive cast of victims and suspects including Emma Roberts Hayden Panettiere Nico Tortorella and Rory Culkin attempt to stop the killer despite an escalating body count.
As with the original Williamson’s screenplay is the most valuable part of the production. He employs the same narrative formula he did in ’96 but puts it in contemporary context riffing on cinema’s current trends (namely sequelitis and the torture-porn craze the latter which the filmmakers are clearly not fans of) his own franchise (the opening self-deprecating sequence is absolutely riotous and perhaps the funniest in the entire series) and America’s social media obsession (Twitter Facebook and YouTube references take the place of pagers and other outdated cultural staples further separating the film from its predecessors) which plays a larger part in the story and its characters motivations than you really want to know. If there ever was a film for and about the been-there-done-that post-modern generation it’s Scre4m.
While Williamson is at the top of his game Craven’s direction doesn’t appear to have evolved much since helming the original (a sad fact considering his creative growth with Music From The Heart and Red Eye). A few eerie shots aside he doesn’t take any risks with the material resulting in a monotonous merry-go-round of murders that’s consciously grislier but noticeably less effective than those found in the earlier entries. Thankfully his enthusiastic cast is more than willing to go over-the-top and beyond to sell the (few) scares; Panettiere particularly stands out as the confident Kirby Reed as does Alison Brie as the slimy PR girl Rebecca Walters. They’re all archetypes fitting into the film’s modus operandi of amusingly adhering to conventions and making it relatively easy for you to predict who’s going to die without spoiling the fun.
Still with so many preconceived notions about what Scre4m should be it’s hard to imagine all moviegoers loving its throwback premise and downright silly tone. What was once clever is now contrived; what was once refreshing and exhilarating for horror buffs is now exploitative of their common knowledge and passion. As a horror-comedy hybrid it brings some funny but not a whole lot of fear; in other words it’s very much like the original. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…