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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Over the next few months, we’ll see new series soar, old series sour, and so much Jersey Shore madness, we’ll want to shower. Let’s face it: The Fall TV season is intimidating. With dozens of new and returning shows hitting our small screens, we know we have some big choices to make. So, to help you determine what to watch, we’re digging deep into the most notable series premiering this season. Where did each show leave off? Where is it headed? And who should you watch it with? Today, we're checking out Chicago Fire, which will involve audiences in the lives of firefighters (twist!) who live and work in Chicago (double-twist!).
Series Name: Chicago Fire
Premiere Date: Wednesday, October 10 at 10 PM on NBC
Number of seasons on air: This'll be the first
Cast: Lie to Me costar Monica Raymund, House alum Jesse Spencer, Oz vet Eamon Walker, and the horror genre's own Lauren German — not to mention a handful of other "Hey, it's that guy!" players. And David Eigenberg.
Synopsis: The day-to-day professional and personal lives of a team of Chicago firefighters, faced with the innate stresses of their high-stakes jobs, as well as in-house rivalries, romances, and other tensions. The show picks a month after the death of a universally beloved Chicago firefighter in the line of duty. We devoted paramedic Gabriela Dawson (Raymund), firehouse newbie Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett), feuding colleagues Matt (Spencer) and Kelly (Taylor Kinney), hard nosed paramedic Leslie (German), and no-nonsense seasoned officer Boden's (Walker), in the dawn of an unwanted reassignment to the quiet, fire-free county of Deerfield. And David Eigenberg.
You'll like it if: You like high-stakes scenarios, living vicariously through onscreen excitement, and ensemble affairs manufactured with every single line of dialogue and interpersonal interaction steeped in a thick gravy of dramatic tension.
You won't like it if: You're put off by scenes of people facing mortal danger, children especially, and melodramaticism.
Who to watch with: Your fellow emotionally-driven TV watchers. The gaspers, the weepers, the sort of people who can hop on board a shipping bandwagon with little more than a few meaningful glances.
Who not to watch with: Your retired, stonefaced fire chief uncle who'll lament all the horsing around that goes on between these hormonal goofballs.
What to yell at the TV: "Don't go into that building! For goodness sakes, it's on fire! Everything is on fire! Why does a city as cold as Chicago have so much fire?!"
What to eat while watching: Marshmallows, bananas foster, anything flambé, or a deep dish pizza.
What to drink while watching: A Flaming Moe, of course.
Best fashion tip: Sometimes, a Hazmat Suit can be pretty stylish.
Worth checking out: We've seen countless police and medical dramas, but Rescue Me has really had the market on firefighter series. Hopefully, Chicago Fire can add something new to the mix and keep the admirable occupation of keeping our citizens safe afloat on network television. After all, it does have David Eigenberg.
[Photo Credit: Matt Dinerstein/NBC]
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The majesty of the Emerald Isle is on full display in Leap Year an opposites attract romantic comedy starring Amy Adams (Julie & Julia Enchanted) and Matthew Goode (A Single Man Watchmen). Director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl Hilary and Jackie) shooting entirely on location in Ireland takes us on a whirlwind tour of the country’s breathtaking landscape reveling in its fabled fairy-tale charm.
Pity then that such a magnificent setting is so mercilessly defaced by Leap Year’s unrelenting mediocrity. The film’s dubious premise testing the already loose limits of rom-com believability casts Adams as Anna a type-A career girl who flies to Ireland intending to pop the question to her feet-dragging boyfriend on February 29th aka Leap Day. Why Leap Day? Because according to some idiotic old Irish tradition that’s when women are allowed to do such things. (Click here to watch Adams herself try to explain the plot.)
Unfortunately for Anna weather problems force her plane to land far away from Dublin and her would-be fiance. Trapped in a tiny coastal town with no reliable transportation at her disposal she enlists the help of a scruffy abrasive barkeep named Declan (Goode) to drive her cross-country so she can reach her destination by the 29th. And thus begins the traditional rom-com mating ritual of sexually-charged bickering followed by moments of abrupt awkward intimacy.
While watching Leap Year I swear I could hear the Irish countryside quietly weeping as it witnessed Goode and Adams slog through the film's succession of trite misadventures the talented actors straining in vain to manufacture some semblance of romantic chemistry as an assortment of jolly Waking Ned Devine types futilely spurred them on. Oh if only Greenpeace could have intervened and put a halt to such wanton environmental desecration. It's the worst thing to come out of Ireland since The Cranberries.