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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Fifty Shades Of Grey stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have given fans a first look at their characters after posing for a sensual new shot for the cover of U.S magazine Entertainment Weekly. Northern Irish actor Dornan, who replaced Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey in the film adaptation of E.L. James' erotic bestseller last month (Oct13), glares into the camera while hugging Johnson, who has dyed her blonde hair dark to play sexually adventurous student Anastasia Steele in the film, to his chest.
The dramatic cover shot is the first official snap of the couple together.
In the accompanying feature, Johnson admits she's working out hard for the project, which has been put back to Valentine's Day (14Feb), 2015, because she says, "I want to look good naked."
Dornan, a former Calvin Klein model, admits he's thrilled he eventually landed the coveted role of Grey after initially auditioning for the part and then learning it had been handed to Hunnam.
When the Sons of Anarchy star stepped down in September (13), citing scheduling problems, the 31 year old was hoping to get the call to step in.
He says, "There was a slight fear, but, beyond anything else, I was really f**king excited."
And he adds, "I'm not shocked by it (the sex in the book). It's essential to tell the story. I can't believe films that don't invoke the sexual side of it. So it works for me."
Supermodel Naomi Campbell has revealed she called Victoria Beckham personally to question her about model choices for her London Fashion Week catwalk show. The British beauty launched a campaign to highlight race issues on the runway last month (Sep13). She admits the former Spice Girls star became one of her top targets, and featured on a letter she sent to officials at the fashion world's governing body, after only one non-white model was selected for her most recent British show.
Now spearheading the anti-racism Diversity Coalition with David Bowie’s wife Iman, Campbell reveals she personally demanded answers from Beckham.
She tells British tabloid The Mirror, ''I called Victoria and I spoke to her. I don’t want to pin-point anyone. It isn’t a blame game. Everyone’s name was on that letter because they’d done it. It could have been completely unintentional. She is one of the designers on there like anyone else.”
The open letter named Beckham, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs among the “fashion houses guilty of this racist act”.
Beckham was upset to be named among the list, but defiant Campbell insists she didn't fear naming names: "There is no way to candycoat this sort of thing. You have to be straight. We had the percentages and we were armed with the facts and you can’t be nervous about upsetting people.
"I speak the truth. People might not like it but I am doing it.”
Michael Douglas has suffered a major blow in his public bid for a prison visit with his incarcerated son Cameron after officials at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) withdrew their support and shut down an online petition lobbying prison authorities for access. The Wall Street star recently revealed he and his ex-wife Diandra Luker have been banned from seeing their son for two years after he was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for a mishap behind bars in Pennsylvania, where he is serving a nine-year sentence for non-violent drug offences.
And, after referencing the ban in his Primetime Emmy Awards acceptance speech last month (Sep13), fans of the actor rushed to support a new petition on Change.org aimed at urging prison bosses to reconsider their decision, but the campaign, which was spearheaded by activists at the DPA, has since been removed from the website.
According to TMZ.com, organisation bosses had a change of heart about the appeal and decided it was unfair to help an individual case instead of focusing on their main goal of prison reform.
The development comes shortly after editors at the New York Post reported that Luker and Douglas have been appealing to famous friends, like Yoko Ono and designers Calvin Klein and Diane von Furstenberg, to lend their backing to the petition.
In an email circulated to their powerful pals, they wrote, "We have not seen our son for over a year, and the government is telling us we cannot see our son for TWO YEARS...! Cameron has also been in solitary confinement for TWO YEARS! (For a non violent crime of possession).
"As parents we are fighting back... PLEASE help us by forwarding this petition after signature, to anyone you know who would like to help the cause."
Madonna is adamant her new campaign against intolerance is her greatest achievement since raising her children. The Material Girl is focusing her attentions on the Art For Freedom initiative, which urges fans around the world to use "video, music, poetry, and photography" in a fight back against prejudice.
She launched the campaign in New York last week (ends29Sep13) with the screening of a promotional film, directed by Steven Klein, which was paid for out of their own pockets, and Madonna insists her drive for freedom of expression is her most important job since becoming a mother.
In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, she says, "Obviously, I feel a great sense of responsibility being a good parent and raising my children. I don't take that job very lightly. Who they are, what they become and what they contribute to the world is very important to me. No slacking in that area, thank god, but the same goes with this film. I've put in I don't know how many man hours, I've poured my own money into it. Steven Klein has done the same.
"We've done it for no financial gain, (and) also not to promote any product in particular. The only reason we're doing this is because we want to shed light on subjects that need to have light shed on (them). I do see that the world that we live in is collapsing to a certain extent, and civilization as we know it is caving in on itself."
Madonna performed for a star-studded crowd in New York City on Tuesday night (24sep13) as she launched a new Internet project. Stars including Lindsay Lohan, Zachary Quinto and Madonna's ex-husband Sean Penn turned out for the launch of the singer's Art For Freedom initiative, which encourages members of the public to submit "video, music, poetry, and photography" to a new website.
The event at the Gagosian Gallery in Manhattan featured the screening of a promotional film, which shows the singer playing a prisoner and a jailer, as well as a performance from the Queen of Pop.
The Vogue star performed a new song onstage with a masked dancer, who was eventually revealed as her young son, Rocco.
As part of the launch celebrations, the film, directed by photographer Steven Klein, was also screened at various locations around the world, including London, Los Angeles, Toronto in Canada, Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany.
A statement about the project, posted on the Artforfreedom.com website, explains, "Madonna & Steven Klein invite you to start your own revolution of love. We have created this platform to give people around the world an opportunity to answer the question: 'What does freedom mean to you?' Express your personal meaning of freedom and revolution in the form of video, music, poetry, and photography. Join the revolution by submitting your art for freedom below, or by tagging your posts #ArtForFreedom."
Madonna is to launch a new Art for Freedom initiative by releasing a new 17-minute film as a free download via website Bittorrent next week (24Sep13). The pop superstar co-directed the short Secretprojectrevolution with longtime collaborator Steven Klein. It will be released as a bundle complete with photographs, trailers and an exclusive interview.
Announcing the project in a statement, Klein says, "It questions what we do, how we do it and how we treat others. It questions our governments, and our collective thought patterns."
Madonna created The Art for Freedom project as a public art project that promotes free speech as a way to address persecution and injustice around the world.
She says, "My goal is to show by the example of secretprojectrevolution my creative commitment to inspire change in the world through artistic expression. I hope my film and other submissions to Art for Freedom will be a call to action and give people a place to voice their own creative expression to help fight oppression, intolerance and complacency."
Nicole Kidman was knocked to the ground on Thursday (12Sep13) after a photographer on a bicycle crashed into her in New York City. The Moulin Rouge! star was returning to the Carlyle Hotel after watching the Calvin Klein show at New York Fashion Week when the snapper, named as Carl Wu, came speeding toward her.
Wu allegedly lost control of his bike and could not avoid colliding with the actress, who tumbled to the ground as her high heels flew off her feet.
Editors at TMZ.com report that a furious Kidman initially wanted to press charges, but cops who arrived at the scene would not arrest Wu for a criminal offence, writing the paparazzo a ticket instead for cycling on the sidewalk.
Kidman was said to have no visible injuries.
Mark Wahlberg jumped at the chance to work with his neighbour, Denzel Washington, on new movie 2 Guns - because the Glory star has always looked out for the former Calvin Klein underwear model and rapper and offered him some sage advice over the years. The Ted star had no idea his pal was attached to the action film when he first picked up the script - and he was thrilled to discover he'd be starring alongside his longtime mentor.
Wahlberg explains, "I said, 'Who is the other guy?' Once I heard Denzel was interested, I was like, 'Great, we got our movie'.
"I've always admired him and we've known each other socially. We both have four kids. We're neighbours and I would always pick his brains for advice, personally and professionally. He's a church-going, family man."
And Washington appears to really like his protege, telling WENN, "Mark's a good guy. He's a regular guy like me. He's a good dude, excited about his businesses. He hasn't lost his way."
Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe broke down in tears on Wednesday (14Aug13) as she testified about the pop superstar's longrunning substance abuse issues, revealing doctors would compete to prescribe the King of Pop with the "better" drugs. The former nurse opened up about the singer's personal problems during her testimony as a defence witness for AEG Live bosses in the ongoing wrongful death lawsuit filed against them by Michael's mother, Katherine Jackson, and his three children.
Rowe, the mother of the star's eldest two kids, tearfully told jurors at Los Angeles County Superior Court that the Thriller hitmaker, who had suffered serious burns to his scalp while filming a Pepsi Cola commercial in 1984, struggled with an "incredible" fear of pain and had such a low tolerance for drugs, it didn't take long for him to become hooked on painkillers like Demerol and Diprivan.
She singled out medics like dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein and plastic surgeon Dr. Steven Hoefflin for enabling the singer, alleging that they would do anything to keep Michael as their patient and would try to outdo one another by issuing stronger doses.
Rowe, who was present during a number of the star's treatments with both Klein and Hoefflin, said, "These idiots were going back and forth the whole time, not caring about him."
She then described Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of inadvertently killing the superstar in 2009 by giving him an overdose of surgical anaesthetic Propofol, as the one who "got in there and killed him".
Lawyers representing AEG Live executives called Rowe, who was married to Jackson for three years from 1996, to testify in a bid to prove that Michael had been struggling with substance abuse issues for years before they signed a deal for his doomed This Is It London residency. They are also fighting accusations that they were responsible for hiring Murray, insisting he served as the singer's personal doctor and was not directly employed by the concert promoters.
The case continues.