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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It’s been four years since we last saw columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her faithful best friends--Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall). The years have been kind to them: Charlotte is living her dream life with her loving husband Harry (Evan Handler) and adoptive 3-year-old Chinese daughter; Samantha has moved to L.A. to manage her boy toy Smith’s (Jason Lewis) acting career and give monogamy a chance; Miranda is a working mom in Brooklyn juggling her demanding career and her marriage to Steve (David Eigenberg); and finally Carrie now a bestselling author who has settled into domestic bliss with her beloved “man friend” John James Preston aka Mr. Big (Chris Noth). Domestic bliss? Carrie and Big? Is that possible? Well let’s just say the road to happiness still isn’t smooth for any of them (save maybe Charlotte) but the film’s outcome is a wholly satisfying experience. For our four lovely leading ladies reprising their Sexy alter egos must have been like riding a bicycle. Parker Nixon Davis and Cattrall defined their SATC roles so succinctly during the HBO show’s six-year run that watching them again feels as if they never stopped. Parker especially eases right back into Carrie mode albeit older and wiser. Gone are her earlier youthful hang ups about commitment replaced by a stronger more mature Carrie--who still has her quirky insecurities. And of course her fabulous one-liners still fly fast and furious (“I need to get out of this Mexi-coma” is a personal favorite). Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson adds a fifth element to the proceedings as Carrie’s smart and sassy assistant who has firm belief in love. The men of SATC also fit right in again. Noth’s Big in particular continues to frustrate but ultimately becomes the man we all knew he could be. The road to a big-screen adaptation of Sex and the City was also not a smooth one. After the show ended in 2004 there were immediate talks about doing a movie version. But not everyone in the cast was ready to continue the gig--namely Kim Cattrall who decided she needed a break (and possibly more money). Still through the perseverance of producer Sarah Jessica Parker and writer/director Michael Patrick King SATC The Movie finally became a reality--and we are very thankful that it did. Many fans just couldn’t let go after the show’s series finale; they wanted more. And so the film gives back in spades bringing us back into these women’s lives for awhile longer--almost to a fault actually. The half-hour TV show was perfect but a SATC film at two hours and some change drags a little in the middle. There’s also the fact the film is certainly grander glossier in scale than the more grounded TV show. Nevertheless it’s just what the doctor ordered for those lovers of all things Sex and the City. Bring on the sequels!