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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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Do you feel that change in the wind, readers? Because — largely thanks to Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham and the like — ladies are killing it behind the scenes on television right now. Today, it was announced that Hollywood mega-starlet Reese Witherspoon would join Sofia Vergara in the 'hot ladies tapped to executive produce new dramas for the upcoming pilot season' category. Excited? We certainly are. Today also brought good news for fans of Syfy's Face-Off, and the sexiness that is Demian Bichir. Read on, and try not to get too excited for 2013. It's not here yet. Live in the moment, people.
Reese's Great Expectations: We bet the CW has some high expectations for this one: The network has put Expectations — a modern take on Charles Dickens' classic Great Expectations — in development, with none other than new mom Reese Witherspoon tapped to executive produce. Expectations will center on a small-town girl who moves to San Francisco. She totally hates it there (ugh, who wouldn't) until her fortunes turn thanks to an anonymous benefactor. Meghan Lyvers and Evelyn O’Neill will also executive produce. [Deadline]
More Like Face-On: Sorry, we just couldn't resist. Syfy's special-effects make-up competition series (say that five times fast!) Face Off has been picked up for a fourth season. This season, Face Off has averaged 986,000 million viewers in the 18-49 demo, and 1.7 million total viewers. Not too shabby for a show about make-up — but having the likes of Brian Grazer guest star (as he is tomorrow night) certainly can't hurt. [Deadline]
Demian Bichir Crossing the Bridge to TV: FX's upcoming drama pilot The Bridge — which, as we already announced, will star Diane Kruger as one of two detectives hunting down a border-crossing serial killer — has found its male lead. Oscar nominee Demian Bichir will play Marco Ruiz, a Mexican detective who teams up with Kruger's character to bring down a major criminal. Ruiz is a family man, and one of the last detectives in the force that hasn't been corrupted by the nearby cartels. Annabelle Gish has also joined the cast, as a wealthy, widowed ranch wife whose husband most likely had something to do with the case Bichir and Kruger are investigating. [Deadline]
Even the Devil Has a Mother: Now this should be fun: looks like Emily Van Camp's Emily Thorne won't be the only Revenge cast member gaining a mom this season. Victoria Grayson's (Madeline Stowe) wicked ways will be put under the microscope when Maude alum Adrienne Barbeau shows up as her mother, whom creator Mike Kelley says is "somebody who knows how to use people." Hm, sound familiar? Apparently, her devious behavior helped shape the monster that is now commonly known as Victoria Grayson. [TVLine]
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Lia Toby/WENN.com]
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It's completely understandable that you'd seek out a sleek, dashing hero who doesn't play by the rules when looking for a spokesperson. Of course you would. He's what every lady wants and what every man wants to be. It's just plain smart. It isn't, however, very wise to choose a hero whose famous one-liner (okay, one of his many famous one-liners) is a phrase that refers to a martini, when you are, in fact, a beer company. It's just a little counterintuitive.
We get it. Stella Artois had that whole ad campaign with Adrien Brody singing sweet nothings to a smoky room full of lovely ladies and you needed to come at them with a more debonair, devilishly handsome man. And he needed to be doing something much more riveting than singing. So you chose the man's man, women's dream, and all around world crime-fighting bad ass James Bond. And we can't fault you for wanting him. We all want him (or want to be him). That's who he is. But (and this is a big but), you, dear, sweet Heineken — you mild lager, you — are not who James Bond is. At all.
James Bond doesn't drink beer. In fact, he doesn't even touch the bottle to his lips in your ad. He'd drink a martini, shaken not stirred, in the middle of the Amazon if he could. And that's part of why he's so bad ass and so alluring. He is resolutely Bond no matter the circumstances. No matter what kind of down and dirty action goes on, he'll emerge with a few scrapes, his hair slicked back, an impeccable suit on his shoulders, and a perfectly crafted martini in hand. He might pick up a beer... if he was in a life or death situation and need to slam it on a table to create a makeshift weapon.
Why am I bringing this up now? You announced that your product would make it into the next Bond movie months ago. Well, today, your first Bond ad was released. It shows some fledgling spy in the middle of a train chase as the choo-choo speeds through some snowy mountains. As he works his way through the train (and a myriad of Bond references and jokes — we see you, Dr. No), he gets the nod of approval from the master, James Bond himself (Daniel Craig edition) in the form of a drink James Bond himself (any onscreen* edition) would never drink, let alone hand off to his protege. My main concern, dear Heineken, is that you're promoting the myth that by drinking Heineken, you're drinking like James Bond. And this is not only wildly sacrilege, but a "truth" that would never have existed in a legacy that stretches back to 1962 unless you threw a meteor-sized pile of money at the franchise.
Yet somehow, in the end, a tall frosty one still sounds pretty good right about now. Damn you, advertising wizards!
*I do recognize that in Ian Fleming's books, beer was consumed. The literary character, however, is the framework for the Bond we've all come to know since the movies first hit the big screen in 1962 with Dr. No. The movie Bond is being used to sell beer, not the literary character from Fleming's novels, thus his stark character change is an issue.
Watch the Heineken ad for yourself: Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler [Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures] More: Bond Flick Blasphemy: Five Ways to Acceptably Integrate a Heineken into 'Skyfall' 'Skyfall' James Bond... Back from the Dead — TRAILER Bond is Back! Daniel Craig in Skyfall Action — PICS
Set in the wintry tones of 1950's England Asylum follows a confused woman Stella (Natasha Richardson) who has too much time on her hands. Her husband Max (Hugh Bonneville) an ambitious forensic psychiatrist has been hired to treat patients at a criminal psychiatric hospital and soon the married couple along with their 10-year-old son Charlie (Gus Lewis) are living on the hospital's grounds. Unstable as she is Stella soon falls for a pathological inmate named Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas) smitten with his mysterious volatility. Problem is Edgar murdered his wife. But Edgar and Stella begin a lusty affair anyway and Stella's family life dissolves into shambles. Jealous doctor Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen) accelerates the breakdown. Asylum is about trapped troubled people confined by their own limitations.
This eclectic ensemble of Britain's finest thespians (and one New Zealander) is Asylum's strongest suit as they play up their worst behaviors. Richardson excels as the detestable Stella letting her fawn-like yet manic eyes do the talking during extended facial close-up scenes. Richardson captures Stella's addiction to helplessness. McKellen (up next in X-Men 3) wields a strong quietness commanding attention with his unpredictable acerbic intentions. As the asylum's voice of authority McKellen makes us believe he belongs in the institution. But the heaviest lifting is left to Csokas (Kingdom of Heaven The Great Raid) who must be at once brooding and pacifying as a wife murderer. Csokas' combination of desirable and repulsive works with mixed results though they are satisfactory. His allure is functional.
The mushy form of Stella's descent makes Asylum feel like a long misdirected slog even though it's only 97 minutes long. There isn't much of a story unfolding; instead it's more of a zigzag-wandering around the stations of grief. Edgar's crazy Stella's in love with him and that's Asylum. The film also often shifts locations without engaging the audience to care. Certain scenes are indeed devastating true to Asylum's grief-stricken story. Director David MacKenzie (Young Adam) shows some chops with his visual narrative style. But the story runs into the ground repeatedly like a nihilistic jackhammer. The direction then seems more like an irritant.
Top Story: Britney Spears Responds to Fred Durst's Comments
Semi-retired pop princess Britney Spears, whom Glamour magazine named woman of the year, has shed some light on her alleged relationship with Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. According to People.com, British Glamour asked Spears if she and Durst really had a thing for each other. "I think him for me, but not me for him." Spears added that she was ticked off at Durst's claims on The Howard Stern Show that she tried to seduce him by arriving at his Los Angeles studio in a see-through blouse. In other Britney news, The Associated Press reports a lawyer for the singer's alleged stalker, 41-year-old Masahiko Shizawa of Yokohama, Japan, argued in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday that his client is simply "an avid fan" and his actions were misinterpreted by the pop star. Spears is seeking a restraining order against Shizawa, claiming he sent her hundreds of love letters and photographs and tracked her to her homes in Louisiana and Hollywood.
Madonna Goes From "Sex" to Children's Books
Madonna has signed a publishing deal with Penguin to write five children's books, Reuters reports. Her first book, The English Roses, based on the adventures of a red fox and a little prince, will be published in September. Penguin did not reveal how much it was paying Madonna to write the books, which will feature illustrations by a well-known artist. Aimed at children aged six and over, the books are a stark contrast to Madonna's previous publishing effort. In the early 1990s, her book Sex featured the pop star and her celebrity friends, including Naomi Campbell, Vanilla Ice and Isabella Rossellini, in various stages of undress.
P. Diddy Expands Restaurant Chain
Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs plans to open a third Justin's restaurant in four to eight months in downtown Detroit, the AP reports. The original Justin's--named after Combs's oldest son--is in New York with a second location in Atlanta. The restaurants offer soul and Caribbean food.
The Clash Will Not Perform at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
The Clash bassist Paul Simonon said the surviving members of the band will not perform when they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month. Lead singer Joe Strummer died of a heart attack in December and had mentioned performing just before he died. But Simonon said he never got the chance to reply and was actually opposed to the idea. According to Reuters, Simonon told British Broadcasting Corp. radio he thought it would be better for the Clash to play in front of their public audience rather than "a seated and booted (crowd)." The Clash, one of the most influential bands to emerge from the British punk movement of the 1970s, split up in the mid-1980s and never reformed.
Anthony Hopkins Weds Again
Anthony Hopkins, best known as Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, married antiques dealer Stella Arroyave in a private ceremony, Reuters reports. Hopkins, 65, and Arroyave, 46, tied the knot Saturday in a ceremony in Malibu attended by friends and family. The two had been dating for about two years. This is the actor's third marriage.
"The Twist" Songwriter Dies
Hank Ballard, the singer and songwriter whose hit "The Twist" ushered a nationwide dance craze in the 1960s, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, the AP reports. Ballard had been suffering from throat cancer. In 1958, Ballard wrote and recorded "The Twist," which was only released on the "B" side of a record. Chubby Checker debuted his own version of "The Twist" on Dick Clark's television show one year later. The song topped the charts and launched a dance craze. Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Role Call: Bonnie Hunt; Johnny Knoxville; "Lupin the Third"
Writer-director-actress Bonnie Hunt will appear on the big screen alongside Steve Martin in 20th Century Fox's remake of Cheaper by the Dozen for director Shawn Levy. Hunt and Martin are the first two actor deals to close on the project, with production scheduled to begin March 31.
Jackass mastermind Johnny Knoxville, meanwhile, has joined the cast of Hating Her, a $10 million comedy that starts production next month. Selma Blair, Bridget Moynahan, Donald Sutherland, Maura Tierney, Blythe Danner and Logan Marshall-Green are already set to star in the project for helmer Thomas Bezucha. Finally, master thief Lupin the Third, a 1960s Japanese comic book anti-hero, will soon make his Hollywood debut. Gerald R. Molen, producer of the Oscar-winning Schindler's List, has acquired the movie rights to the work.