Benedict Cumberbatch's codebreaking drama The Imitation Game has been chosen to open the BFI London Film Festival in October (14). The Sherlock star portrays British computer expert Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma codes during World War II. Keira Knightley also stars as fellow codebreaker Joan Clarke.
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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This morning Neil Patrick Harris and Aaron Paul, fillng in for Kate Mara, whose flight was delayed, announced the 2013 Emmy Awards nominations. Here's the full list of nominees. Did your favorite make the cut?
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey Damian Lewis, Homeland Kevin Spacey, House of Cards Jon Hamm, Mad Men Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey Claire Danes, Homeland Robin Wright, House of Cards Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men Connie Britton, Nashville Kerry Washington, Scandal
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra Toby Jones, The Girl Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade's End Al Pacino, Phil Spector
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum Laura Linney, The Big C Helen Mirren, Phil Spector Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake
Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program Ryan Seacrest, American Idol Betty White, Betty White's Off Their Rockers Tom Bergeron, Dancing With The Stars Heidi Klum, Project Runway Tim Gunn, Project Runway Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance Anthony Bourdain, The Taste
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series Jason Bateman, Arrested Development Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory Matt Leblanc, Episodes Don Cheadle, House of Lies Louis C.K., Louie Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series Laura Dern, Enlightened Lena Dunham, Girls Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation Tina Fey, 30 Rock Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Outstanding Reality - Competition Program The Amazing Race Dancing With The Stars Project Runway So You Think You Can DanceTop Chef The Voice
Outstanding Variety Series The Colbert Report The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Jimmy Kimmel Live Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Real Time With Bill Maher Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Miniseries Or Movie American Horror Story: Asylum Behind The Candelabra The Bible Phil Spector Political Animals Top Of The Lake
Outstanding Comedy Series The Big Bang Theory Girls Louie 30 Rock Veep
Outstanding Drama Series Breaking Bad Downton Abbey Game Of Thrones Homeland House Of Cards Mad Men
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad Jim Carter, Downton Abbey Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones Morena Baccarin, Homeland Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.