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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Season 12 of American Idol hasn't begun to air yet, and we already know what to expect: namely, cat fights and competing egos at the judges table. Since Idol's massive judges shakeup in Season 10 — when they introduced superstars Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez to the mix (a change that was foreshadowed by Ellen DeGeneres' replacement of Paula Abdul and Kara Dioguardi's stints as judge) — the judges themselves have demanded more attention. And this season, with Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Mariah Carey joining Randy Jackson, we have more star power squeezed behind the desk than ever before. But, we also have one of the most qualified judges to date.
While Lopez, Tyler, Urban, and Minaj (Minaj to a lesser extent) have had long and successful careers as performing artists, none of them have seen the same commercial success or know the industry as inside out as Carey. Today, with her cradle-robbing marriage to Nick Cannon and ridiculously named twins (I will never get over Monroe and Moroccan) taking center stage in the media, it's easy to forget that Carey is one of the most talented and ubiquitous R&B artists of all time.
With that in mind, here are 10 reasons why Mariah is actually qualified to be a judge on a singing competition reality show.
1. Her talent is indisputable. Carey is notable for having a voice with a five octave range, a feat accomplished by few. The current world record for vocal range is eight octaves. Carey beats out her The Voice counterpart Christina Aguilera in this regard — her range is "only" four octaves.
2. She is no studio-produced songbird, Carey's vocal talents translate to the stage. A New York Times review of one of Carey's first arena concerts, in 1993 at Madison Square Garden, states, "Although rock concerts aren't known for precise intonation, she sang with startlingly exact pitch." So if Mariah tells a contestant he or she is "a little pitchy," you know you can trust her.
3. She's got the awards to back up her talent. Carey has been nominated for 34 Grammy awards and has taken home the trophy five times (in 1991 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best New Artist, in 2006 for Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best R&B Song, and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance). Carey also has 11 American Music Awards and 31 Billboard Awards to her name.
4. Speaking of Billboard, Carey rules the charts. Here are her impressive stats: - She holds the record for most weeks at No.1 — in 1995 and 1996, her single "One Sweet Day" held the top spot for 16 weeks.
- She has had 27 Top 10 singles, the second-most of any female artist (behind Madonna), and is tied for the sixth most overall (with Janet Jackson and Elton John).
- Carey ranks only behind The Beatles in No. 1 singles (she has 18, they have 20).
- She is tied with Elvis for the most cumulative weeks at No. 1 with 79 weeks. 5. Carey is the second-highest-selling female artist of all time, with a reported 200 million albums sold worldwide. While bands such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Queen as well as male artists like Elvis Presley and Elton John beat Carey's number, only one lady surpasses her in album sales. And that lady, my friends, is Madonna.
6. She's more than just a vocalist. Carey writes and produces the majority of her songs.
7. Carey was included in the lineup for the first ever VH1 Divas Live concert in 1998. While the participants in the past few years have been less impressive, Carey's lineup included Céline Dion, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, and Shania Twain.
8. She knows the biz inside out. Carey was married to Tommy Mottola, the former head of Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia Records, for four years (1993-1997). It's safe to say that during this time Carey was privvy to information about the inner-workings of the music biz that very few young stars know.
9. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is the most-downloaded holiday song ever. It has sold 2.1 million copies in America alone, while the album it's on, Merry Christmas, has sold nine million copies worldwide.
10. She has amazing hair. It's so big, and full of music industry secrets!
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX; Peter Heimsath/Rex USA; WENN]
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It seems that while the big Hollywood donkeys got their rest after Day One of the Democratic National Convention, President Clinton had a little more partying to do. Especially since he was about to receive Tinseltown's biggest honor.
Yep, that's right -- after he wistfully practiced an acceptance speech with Kevin Spacey's Academy Award (and having Spacey take it away from him) during his famous "Clinton: The Final Days" video spoof, President Clinton finally received an "Oscar" for Best President at the Democratic Party's Welcoming Party Monday night.
The trophy, in true Hollywood fashion, was presented by California Gov. Gray Davis at Paramount Studios. Clinton, accompanied by wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, joked, "I had Kevin Spacey's Oscar and he was ungracious enough to come and take it away from me just because he won it and I didn't.
"So now that I have one of my very own, I'll be able to lord it over him."
But the real question of the evening was not whether Gov. Davis was hoarding one of the missing Oscar statuettes all this time, but where the "star-studded" part of the evening was to commence. After all, the biggest stars on the red carpet (lined with 'Academy Award' statues, of course) were Jim Carrey (well, actually a pretender, complete with Ace Ventura hair and talking out of his butt) and Marilyn Monroe (ditto, but no butt-talking).
Where were all those high-profile Gore supporters, like TV's "West Wing" president, Martin Sheen, or Kevin Costner, or Dylan McDermott? Where was Enrique Iglesias?
Presidential Partyer Gary Busey By 9 p.m., much to the infuriation of all reporters, the biggest star on the scene was ... Gary Busey. Nonetheless, Busey drew such a desperate press frenzy (likely the largest of his career) that one journalist was asking, "Who is that? Is that God?"
By 9:30 p.m., with press cages bare and reporters sipping Coronas, hope of finding any famous face among the thousands faded quickly.
"My friend thinks she saw Jeff Bridges pull up in a car," one lady offers. We think we spot the skimpy-dressed Christina Aguilera -- until she looks our way. (Turns out we were off by 30 years).
Other sightings included Tobey Maguire, Carmen Electra, Anjelica Huston, Victoria Rowell ("The Young and the Restless"), Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols and '80s popster Tiffany.
Meanwhile, the available star power did their best. Actor Joe Pantoliano ("The Matrix") and Kevin Pollak ("The Whole Nine Yards") made the introductions, the latter bombing through a number of stand-up jokes (including impressions of Ross Perot and Gore's running mate Joseph Lieberman). Celebrity Democracy Readings featured Frances Fisher, Noah Wyle, Laurence Fishburne and Alfre Woodard reciting famous orations by John F. Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few.
We'd like to think that Whoopi and Barbra didn't pass the disorganized but ultra-tight security entrance, but we're pretty sure they were hiding out in the V.I.P lounge instead, laughing as the masses sway to "Lean On Me," meant to be a unifying Democratic anthem, led by Michael Bolton.
Yes, Michael Bolton. And no, Gary Busey did not join in.