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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Among the few things that were wrong with Michael Mann's Public Enemies was its interpretation of Charles Arthur Floyd, better known to historians and wannabe gangsters as Pretty Boy Floyd. The problem with the character was that he was barely in the film; relegated to an insignificant cameo of sorts with current it-boy Channing Tatum inhabiting the role. I'm glad that Universal's lackluster drama won't be the last we'll see of Floyd -- The Hollywood Reporter says that he's about to get his own film.
According to the trade, Wayne Kramer will direct the biopic about "The Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills” from Kevin Bernhardt's script with an eye on modernizing the tone of the story. Says Kramer: "My approach is to bring 21st century style and energy to Kevin Bernhardt’s meticulously researched screenplay without sacrificing the verisimilitude of the period or over-sensationalizing the characters themselves.” Sounds good, I think?
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how to feel about the project. Kramer's resume is spotty at best, having written and directed films like The Cooler and Running Scared (yay!), but also penning the dreadful Mindhunters (nay!). He's capable of making an exciting flick and that's what Mann forgot to do with his 2009 Dillinger biopic, so perhaps a little testosterone will go a long way for Pretty Boy.
Source: Risky Business
Sees The Genesis Code
Source: Myriad Pictures
Hayden Christensen has had a lot of opportunities to wow me, but even after taking a pivotal role in one of my favorite film franchises and getting numerous high-profile gigs since, I haven't been impressed. Maybe with a hot new project, he can finally change my mind and show the world that Shattered Glass wasn't just a fluke.
Myriad Pictures today announced that he'd be starring in their upcoming thriller The Genesis Code, based on a novel of the same name John Case. The story follows a former national security expert (Christensen), who, while investigating the murder of his only sister and her young son, discovers that a religious sect called The Shadow of the Cross may be involved. With the help of his sister's friend Ana, they follow the clues to a clinic in the mountains of Italy, where a terrifying secret experiment has been conducted – successfully. The results are so threatening to the foundation of the Church that they will do anything to keep it from being revealed.
David R. Ellis, a stunt specialist turned filmmaker who is known for high-octane thrillers like Final Destination 2 and Snakes On A Plane, is directing from a script by Kevin Bernhardt. Of course, neither of those previous efforts give me much hope in the project, so Christensen better bring the goods.