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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More beautiful than a piece of art? The fact that Sunday night's Celebrity Apprentice was only a merciful 60 minutes long. (And this is the only time you'll see an entertainment journalist thank The Voice for three straight hours of programming.) But the shortened episode was hardly the most beautiful thing about Sunday's show. After a five-week tear, self-proclaimed boardroom expert Omarosa Manigault was finally fired from Celebrity Apprentice, outdone by, of all contestants, Dennis Rodman.
But the fact that Omarosa used the word "integrity" during her fight to stay in the competition was hardly the most ridiculous thing about Sunday's episode, which saw Lisa Rinna clinch a victory for her charity, St. Jude's. The challenge, which asked the stars to raise money for their project manager's charity by creating and selling their own artwork, also led to these moments more ridiculous than guest judge Piers Morgan accusing someone of thinking they're a celebrity:
8. Dennis Rodman, a Force in the BoardroomIt was easier to understand the most sprawling of Faulkner novels than Rodman's plea in the boardroom to send home Omarosa, yet the basketball player still drew me in more than a late '90s Carmen Electra. Who knew The Worm would take down The Snake?
7. JELL-O, Blue Man Group!Everyone's favorite non-support group showed up to support Penn Jillette, donating thousands of dollars encased in 150 pounds of JELL-O. Even they miss Season 1 of the the Office.
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6. Dennis' "Redemption"Trump claims the basketball player's very conscious performance on this season of Celebrity Apprentice is redemption for his efforts on Season 2 of the series, which Rodman mistook for a different reality show called Nap On Camera. Which means I experience my own personal redemption story every time I wake up in the morning. Still, Rodman is too good a reality star to let go, so he, like his big screen spirit animal Jean Valjean, will live one day more on Celebrity apprentice.
5. Dennis Rodman, Sober Modern ArtistTake note, kids: Stay off drugs, and you too can earn praise for arguing nonsensically, staying conscious, And crafting an impressive piece of modern art involving Derek Jeter's bat.
4. "Specific to Me, the Art Does Matter."Says Stephen Baldwin, the man who once starred in Snakeman.
RELATED: 'Celebrity Apprentice': Omarosa and LaToya's Ridiculous Fight
3. Stephen's a Piece of (Art)workSadder than Picasso's Blue Stage is Stephen's entire life stage, brought to life by a piece of art he called "I'm Not Alec." Whether that title showcased his inferiority complex more than his pride that a non-existant art dealer thought the piece was better than the artwork of his fellow D-list celebrities... you be the judge.
2. "It Came From an Unknown Presence."What could be the first line from an H.G. Wells novel also proved to be the logic behind real-life Morlock Gary Busey's "Mr. Hang Brain," a piece of artwork that did indeed look like it came straight out of the actor's subconsious. And, as it turns out, a donor was willing to pay $25,000 for a glimpse inside Busey's mind. What's even more surprising, though, is that...
1. Art Imitates LifeWho could predict the Entourage plotline most likely to come true was Busey's success in art? (Admittedly, still more realistic than an Aquaman movie.)
[Image Credit: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
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.
Kristen Stewart Owns 'Wolves': Late Last Night
Eclipse opens tomorrow! I hope you're planning on sleeping under your desk at work tomorrow night because there's no way in vampires and werewolves you'll make it past the fans outside the theaters and into your apartment before you're due back in your cubicle. In fact, you'd have a better chance surviving an attack from a pack of Kristen Stewart's 'wolves' than being unaffected by Twihard mania. David Letterman held up a few pictures of her bad boys, and pointed out they look and snuggle like dogs -- not wolves. She claims she has documentation that proves they are wolves. Also, photographs of them eating human arms!
Then, Letterman talked to Gary Faulkner, the guy who flew to Pakistan in search of Osama Bin Laden. I'm not going to criticize him too much because he made it so easy, anyone can do it.
The only thing more sure than nothing getting resolved during the G-8 and G-20 Summits is that there'll be protesters! Jon Stewart reminded us how President Obama went to Canada and argued other countries should continue spending so as to stimulate the world's economy, but other countries didn't think that was such a good idea and advocated for an end to the deficits. So did he actually succeed at all up there? Not really! He couldn't even convince new Britain Prime Minister David Cameron to drink his beer cold! Womp womp!
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10cOMG-20www.thedailyshow.comDaily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
Stephen Colbert told us the world really is going to end, and there's actually a way we can survive it: by creating our own fancy shmancy fallout shelter! Bring on the binge eating!
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30cDoomsday Bunkerswww.colbertnation.comColbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News
Welcome to Hollywood.com’s Insomniac’s Guide to television, where we bring you our guide to strange, dark underbelly of television that is after-11 programming. So if you’re a night owl, or just want to set your TiVo, check out our recommendations for the week. But there’s no guarantee that these shows will look as good by the light of day.
Note: TV is recorded by the night, rather than date that it airs. For instance, if a show is on at 2 AM Tuesday morning, it will be listed as a Monday night show. All times EST.
Monday Night 6/28
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - 12-1 AM on SyFy
Alright, I messed up a little bit with this one. The season technically started last week, so if you start tonight you will have missed the first two episodes. But it’s only two, and you’re not really watching this show for the plot, you’re watching it for the giant robot battles! And the series has that in abundance.
Tuesday Night 6/29
10 Ways to Kill Bin Laden- 12:01 on The History Channel
Ever sit around your house at night and wonder if there’s anything you could be doing to kill Osama Bin Ladin? If so, you may be Gary Faulkner, but if you lack the drive/crazy necessary to get yourself to Afghanistan with a 40-inch sword, you can just watch this show on the History Channel instead.
Wednesday Night 6/30
Heathers- 3 AM on IFC
Heathers is a cult classic, a clever, biting parody of those ubiquitous John Hughes high school movies. If you’re sick of the latest 80’s nostalgia trend, this film will remind you that people hated the 80’s in the 80’s too. Plus, it’s got Winona Ryder as the original Hipster Pixie Dream Girl, and some great quotable lines. I love my dead gay son!
Thursday Night 7/1
30 for 30: The 2 Escobars- 1:30 AM on ESPN
I’m not so much of a sports person, but ESPN’s special documentary series, 30 For 30 can even get me interested. This episode, The 2 Escobars, follows the intertwined fates of Pablo Escobar, the powerful drug lord, and Andres Escobar, the famous soccer player. If you know your history there won’t be any surprise endings, but it’s still such a skillfully told story you won’t want to miss it.
Friday Night 7/2
Blue Velvet- 2 AM on Turner Classic Movies
David Lynch is a rare filmmaker with the talent of actually capturing what it is to be in a dream. Blue Velvet may not be his most surreal film (if you want to see Eraserhead, it’s on IFC Sunday night), but it’s still deeply weird and deeply Lynch. I don’t think I’d like to fall asleep to a Lynch film, but I’m sure it would be very simple.
Saturday Night 7/3
Batman- 12 AM on Fox Movie Channel (FMC) and Batman- 12 AM on WGN America
Depending on your mood, interests, and level of inebriation, you can choose between two different Batman movies Tuesday night: the 1960’s campy, Bat-Shark-Repellent-using Batman on FMC; or the 1980’s Jack Nicholson, Tim Burton-back-when-he-was-vaguely-original Batman on WGN. Or you can flip between the two and deal with the mood whiplash. Either way, this is a great chance to get some Bats into your life, besides watching The Dark Knight for the thousandth time.
Bonus: Still need more of the Caped Crusader? Then check out Batman: The Animated Series on Sunday night to see ‘Heart Of Ice.” The episode, which introduces anti-villain Mr. Freeze, won the series an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing” and is a high point for the excellent animated series. Catch it Sunday night on Disney XD at 2:30 AM.
Sunday Night 7/4
Jaws: The Revenge- 1:45 AM on Encore
The shark from Jaws is back, and this time, it’s personal. No, really, that’s actually the tag line from Jaws: The Revenge, the fourth Jaws film, in which the shark decides to specifically target and torment the Brody family. Tune in to watch Michael Caine slum it up, and see the characters conveniently forget that sharks can be easily avoided by going inside or moving to non-coastal regions.